September 1, 2005

Tasting the Love Apple

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Foodgasm: The exact moment when a rush of complex, intense flavors engulfs one’s tongue, rendering one unable to speak coherently (See also: “food moment,” “food orgasm”).

Does anyone enjoy walking barefoot in the dirt? Something about dark moistness smooshing between my toes and small ants crawling around my ankles is wholly unappealing. But alas, I am on a mission more worthy than the well-being of my feet.

I am saving the tomatoes in my grandmother’s garden from uncertain death by mold, fungus, insects and various species of raccoon. Tomatoes are entirely too tasty and too unavailable in the arctic tundra of Ithaca winters to surrender.

Sure, one can purchase tomatoes at Wegman’s year-round (dare not speculate that the word “purchase” implies a canned substance). Yet even the spectacles in the winter produce aisle pale in comparison to the fresh, backyard stock. After experiencing eight, freezing months of tough, bland tomatoes, that first bite of summer never fails to astonish. One is acutely aware of her eyes closing as the flesh bursts at the slightest mouth pressure, releasing the warm, sweet pulp onto the tongue-

Foodgasm break- the Italians and the French nicknamed the tomato “love apple” for good reason! The love apple is grown in hundreds of varieties, most of which do not resemble an apple. Tomatoes vary in harvest time (early or mid-season), size (heirloom – largest, beefsteak, sauce, cherry – smallest), breed (openly pollinated vs. hybrid) and color (red, pink, orange, yellow, green striped).

Which kind of tomato do you know best? If you are from the southeast, then you probably are best acquainted with the reddish-pink Bradley tomato. If you like to ogle at tomatoes larger than softballs, then the “Big Beef” hybrid is probably your best bet in the garden. Are you averse to eating red-colored foods? Try the yellow pear tomato, often seen as a compliment in relishes or on vegetable trays because of its fabulous (yellow) color. All of these varieties are harvested during warm months and all of them taste fabulously, pungently sweet when eaten straight from the vine.

Why should college students care about growing tomatoes? After all, most of us don’t even own a bathroom, much less a backyard. But a yard is not needed to grow a tomato plant. All you need is 1) a warm, damp environment (dorm/apartment patio), 2) a four-inch tomato plant (from the Ithaca Farmers Market or a local nursery), 3) an 18-inch square container, 4) compost/soil, 5) something for the tomato plant to grow onto and 6) more detailed online instructions for upkeep. Presto! Fresh, plentiful, (almost) free tomatoes that taste better than those bought in the grocery store.

Apart from eating this fruit/vegetable “naked,” how else might it be prepared? Italians create caprese by topping sliced tomatoes with loads of fresh mozzarella, fresh sweet basil and olive oil. Persians chop tomatoes with green onion, cucumber, fresh mint and parsley to form a salad. Tomatoes are found throughout Mexican fare – red tomatoes are used in red salsas and tomatillos, cousins of the tomato, are used in salsa verde. After all, the origin of the tomato can be traced back to the Aztecs in 700 A.D. Apart from use in cuisine of the international variety, tomatoes can also be stewed, peeled, chopped, stuffed, pureed, marinated, roasted, julienned – without embarking upon a Forrest Gump-style tirade, you get the idea.

Not a master chef? Fear not, fresh summer tomatoes can be easily obtained around Cornell at the following locations:

The Ithaca Farmer’s Market is priority #1 for food lovers – fresh tomatoes themselves, as well as prepared versions, can be purchased for relatively low prices. The farmer’s market is open Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Steamboat Landing at the end of 3rd Street.

Moosewood Restaurant in the commons has been serving fresh, natural foods since 1973. Moosewood is known for supporting local growers and features fresh heirloom tomatoes in 25% of their entrees during tomato season.

Ithaca Bakery (owner of Collegetown Bagels) has been known to run specials using local products, including summer tomatoes.

Take advantage of fresh tomatoes while you can – the season ends in early to mid-October, and then it’s back to the grocery store. On that note – off I go again into the wet soil to pluck myself a food moment from the vine.

Archived article by Anna Fishman
Sun Contributor