Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Romancing the Tomato

Have you ever eaten the perfect fresh tomato? I dont mean those cold, anemic bits of watery matter that you find languishing atop an iceberg side salad, or the plump skinless affairs in cans (that though tasty always have the unsettling appearance of limp butchered carcasses). Im talking about a fruit that was never shipped across country in a refrigerated truck, that ripened naturally on the vine and still seems to hold the mellow warmth of the sun even when sitting in your kitchen, and that isn't perhaps the perfect red globe that we see in seed catalogs, but a mysterious blend of colors with little ripe mounds bulging haphazardly here and there.

A tomato like this has an almost fetishistic appeal for me, I have tried (and failed) to find its like in super markets even when I know it is out of season. It must be the eternal foolish optimist in me, but every winter I find myself seduced by those disarmingly symmetrical bright red plum tomatoes that have been imported from sunnier climes. Each time I learn that the only way to salvage these bits of false advertising is to add them to a dish where they will boil down and their shame can be hidden. With New England's short growing season and cantankerous weather its no wonder that I await the tomato's grand entrance at local farmer's markets in the summer with bated breath and that I will pay ridiculous amounts for a single pound, returning home with stars in my eyes and thinking myself the happiest person in the wold.

If you have a good knife, the tomato's flesh parts under it like butter, and cubing it for salsa or slicing it thinly for a sandwich becomes a sensual undertaking, one that you will draw out as long as you can. I still remember rather shamefacedly, the half hour that I wasted cutting the first tomato of this season...I had brought my knife to exquisite sharpness and I could almost feel each tomato atom separate from its neighbor as I drew the knife between them. And oh that first bite, when what wikipedia tells me are called locular cavities, rupture and your mouth is flooded with the tangy, moist, gel-like pulp. After a season without tomatoes I always find the taste to be surprisingly rich, like the condensed flavor of a hundred sun-filled summer days.

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