Letter to the Editor: Lamenting the taste of real tomatoes
As a concerned curmudgeon and a tomato lover, it grieves me that generations of innocent folks will live out their lives having never enjoyed real tomato flavor. When I was a kid, which, according to geological time wasn’t so very long ago, the grocers’ bins were filled with delicious red, ripe and ready to eat tomatoes.
Not so today.
Tomatoes found in stores today are hybridized to toughen the skin so they will stand the rigors of long distance travel and the abuse from mechanical harvesters. The harvester, aka iron behemoth, lumbers on to a field of green tomatoes and snatches entire plant from the ground as it goes.
Then in the bowels of the monster, tomatoes are stripped from the vines and transferred to a truck. All of this without a whit of attention to preserving real tomato flavor. Although they don’t usually have harvesters, vendors in farmers’ markets and roadside stands have adopted the pick-it-before-their-time mantra.
I lived in Eastern shore of Maryland until about age 8; I remember my father stopping our car on the roadside and picking a few ripe ones for supper. As an adult, I returned for another five years. At that time, Maryland’s Eastern shore and the Eastern shore of Virginia made up the center of the tomato world.
At least for me they did. During the summer I worked at a tomato cannery where I bought tomatoes from local farmers. We did not buy behemoths and we did not pick ‘em green. When I wanted the great taste of a ripe tomato I merely picked up one from atop a basket holding 33 pounds.
I know a ripe tomato when I see it. Being red does not make a tomato vine-ripened.
Here is how you can recognize a good one — if you can find it. Using the pads of your fingertips feel the outside. If it is not smooth and you feel ridges the cavities inside are not filled out, and consequently it was not ready for picking.
How do you recapture that great tomato taste? That’s a tough one. Raise ‘em in your backyard perhaps.
Byrd Humphreys, the Cheerful Curmudgeon, is a native Kinstonian and a long-time organic gardener.