Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Developing a taste for tomatoes

I’ve moved most of my seedlings outside to be nourished by this unusually warm sunshine that we’re having in April. They stand happily, toughening up and growing before it’s time to put them in the ground. I’m always especially happy to see the tomato plants growing slowly into their promise of strong stems that lead to abundant fruits.

I used to hate tomatoes—couldn’t stand the texture of a fresh tomato in my mouth. I ate catsup, spaghetti sauce and a number of other foods made from cooked tomatoes. But most of my friends knew I wouldn’t put into my mouth even a cherry tomato topping a green salad.

Then I went through nutritional counseling with a holistic nurse while I underwent treatment for breast cancer. She advised me to eat tomatoes daily so I could absorb that all-important lycopene that is a powerful antioxidant. The good news she gave me was that tomatoes develop more lycopene when they are cooked, so the sauces I already liked would give me what I needed. But because of her encouragement, I also made a new attempt at eating fresh tomatoes. Here’s what I discovered.

While I was recovering from cancer, Jim and I took a trip to Ireland and Italy to celebrate. On our first day in Italy, we stopped at an outdoor café near the Vatican. Jim ordered tomato salad, fresh tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil on top. Because I love cheese, I decided to try one. Much to my surprise, I actually liked it! Perhaps the cheese disguised the slimy texture of the tomato but I think it also had to do with the fact that this tomato was sweet, not acidic.

So when I came home, I went on a mission to find a sweet Italian tomato to grow in my garden. Then I searched for the ideal sauce tomato. Here’s what I’ve come up with that I grow every year.

Constaluto Genovese—a sweet, slicing tomato that pairs beautifully with cheese or anything else.

San Marzano—a paste tomato that always grows a little larger in my garden than the typical Romas.

Cherokee Purple—an heirloom tomato that grows into a pretty color. I primarily use these for cooking but Jim likes them fresh on his sandwiches.

Oxheart—another heirloom that my friend Angela introduced me to a few years ago. They get really large and, again, they’re pretty.

There is something to be said for being tempted to eat something because of its beauty.

I don’t find these tomato plants to be available locally which is why I order seed and grow them myself. Give one of them a try this year. I hope this year’s babies will keep maturing so we can look forward to plenty of ripe fruits once again.

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