Tomatoes & basil

Posted by Jenni

In my twenties, my husband and I moved out to the Midwest. I remember calling my mom from Ohio, lamenting the cost of supermarket tomatoes. They were three times what I was used to paying and I couldn’t imagine a salad without them. I’d begrudgingly walk past the perfect stacks in the produce department and squinch my lower lip, feeling cheated.

I realize now that I was accustomed to artificially inexpensive tomatoes grown to look (but not act) perfect. Fake tomatoes, if you will. Fruits so tough, they’d slice into uniform circles, never threatening to disintegrate on the plate, their insides more pink than red. And with a flavor that only resembled that of real tomatoes.

I tasted a real tomato a couple of years after our move because I started running around with folks who garden. One sent me home on a warm August night with a bag so heavy with the fruit the handles left an indentation in my forearm.

These had to be eaten within several days, and they looked scarred and misshapen. Thick slices (thin slices were impossible) fell with a thud onto the cutting board, their cavities filled with a mess of tart-sweet gelatin.

When I finally had a house and a plot of land of my own, I grew some big, ugly, delicious tomatoes of my own. But since those days of happy tomato harvests, I’ve moved to a less hospitable tomato-growing environment. Tomatoes like it hot and dry, like their ancestors that grew wild in the coastal deserts of southern Peru and northern Ecuador (a fact I quote directly from Barry Estabrook’s new book – a must-read if you want to understand the history and current state of of affairs for the modern tomato).

Yes, despite my relatively warm bed at the side of the house that gets radiant heat from our dark siding, the rainy, cold Pacific Northwest has given me green tomatoes. For three years running.

This year, I planted one Sungold tomato plant (for nibbling) and used the rest of my warmest bed to grow basil. And what a sight it’s become!

Since they peak at the same time and make for a classic combination, Chie and I will explore how tomatoes and basil can be combined this week. Plus, we’re planning a field trip that we’ll tell you all about on Thursday.

Happy growing, buying, smelling, trading and cooking the season’s beautiful tomatoes and basil this week.

7 thoughts on “Tomatoes & basil

  1. Just this past week I pulled all the dead tomato plants from the garden and added them to the compost pile. Sadly, our tomato harvest was nil in spite of constant sunshine and plenty of heat. Too much heat really. The tiny greenlings were scorched, split and backed before they had a chance to mature into anything larger than a pecan. Seventy plus days of over 100 degrees has turned my garden into an oven and so far, I’ve not developed a palate for “sun-roasted green tomatoes.” Sigh…..there’s always next year. Enjoy the basil.

  2. I ate a slice of one of those fake tomatoes last night and gazed longingly through my windows at the rogue tomato vines that have sprouted and prospered in my back yard. We have tomatoes on the vine NOW and I so excited about this unexpected, late-season surprise. You are absolutely correct – there is nothing like a home grown tomato.

    As for the Basil, I painfully opened my purse for some fresh Basil at the grocery store today. Then I read your post. I am taking it as a sign – it’s time for me to stop procrastinating and get my herb garden underway!!

    Enjoyed your post as always.

    • Thanks for your comment, Julie. Oh you are lucky – spontaneous, fresh tomatoes! You’ll have to let us know what you do with them. And I’m right there with you on the herb garden. I grow basil in one of the vegetable beds but don’t have any other herbs in the garden. We have the spot all picked out, now we just have to make it happen.

  3. I just heard about the book Tomatoland that you referred to in your post. Oh my… I will NOT buy tomatoes in the winter, canned tomatoes either. Great read! When I get back to Portland I’m going to the farmers market, harvest and buy all the tomatoes I can and dry them for winter… beautiful post!

    • I know. Supermarket tomatoes really have become a filler vegetable. Nothing valuable about them for the consumer at all. My next step is to commit to canning large quantities of them!

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