Tomatoes Are Like Golden Apples… or plump things with navels


Still life with author and tomato

Some people have never seen a real tomato.  I’m not talking about the perfectly uniform red spherical or slightly elongated varieties that typically line supermarket bins and veggie trays in typical neighborhoods, but real lumpy beefy acidic nightshades with genetic histories beyond the greengrocer’s unholy laboratories.  Some whole countries have never seen the real thing I suspect, Thailand for instance, which prides itself on the finest sweetest least-fibrous variety of every possible fruit (no comment on the women), but in this case relegated to the cardboard-cut-out picture-perfect puff-pieces that serve as little more than filler to an honest sandwich or salad.


Many countries and cultures don’t necessarily eat sandwiches, of course, so I can’t blame them for their negligence, any more than I can blame the happy Mexicans who produce most of the ones we Americans eat these days.  They invented the blessed fruit, after all, or at least nurtured its evolution from some primordial berry into the lusty beefsteaks (sometimes) available today, though such varieties are hard to find in Mexico itself (be prepared to ask for jitomates if the word tomate doesn’t work, presumably the most direct etymological descendant of an earlier aboriginal form, something like xitomatl, meaning ‘plump thing with a navel’ in Nahuatl).  Sounds like someone I know.  Italians see them as ‘golden apples,’ pomodoros.

So it was no small surprise to see these luscious fat-boys with the lumpy edges and the uneven coloring in a local LA second-rate supermarket, albeit with a name I was unfamiliar with.  I stared so long that someone finally implied that I should keep moving.  I’m excited, though, given the fact that many were ripening and rotting right there in the bin.  That’s a good sign.  Most supermarket tomatoes never really ripen or rot at all; they don’t have enough sugar.  They just get nasty blotches or soft spots that eventually take over the entire fruit.  They even had that fresh tomato acidic smell, and that’s something you can’t fake, though it’s hard to accomplish without the vines attached.  I try to buy tomatoes that way if possible, just for garden-variety nostalgia, though these didn’t come with that option.  Still I have high hopes, just a hunch, I guess (and the price was right, since the bin was full, not just a few heirloom museum pieces at exorbitant rates).


We’ll know soon, as I had to pick one that was not yet ripe, the better to endure the long walk home in summer heat on asphalt roads.  I plan to soon start lovingly trimming the upper flanks for salad kibble and work around the edges all smooth and even , until I get below the stem shank, then move on to sandwich slices.  That’ll be the real test.  Anything crunchy or colorful goes well in salads, but a good sandwich is precise and demanding.  One slice of this one should suffice for one sandwich, perfect symmetry.  I might even buy a Portobello mushroom for the occasion, do a mock cheeseburger or something, thoroughly mix my metaphors, and then allow to settle in the stomach and on the sofa.  This should be good.  I can hardly wait.


You know, I could probably forgive Paula Deen her verbal transgressions, and on some level maybe even her inherent racism: it does come with the turf, to some extent, at least.  But I can never forgive her those sagging jowls and sallow cheeks.  Southern cooking is supposed to be healthy, after all, and best when fresh from the garden.  Everything else is a perversion, a ‘mockery’ I believe one critic said…or was it ‘caricature?’  And that just ain’t country, not mine anyway.  Guy Clark said it best: “ain’t nuthin’ better than home-grown tomatoes.”  This could be a game-changer for a country boy in LA…  Stay tuned.