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THINKING OUT LOUD - He's not impressed by California tomatoes

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:54 PM

A story in The New York Times some time ago had this provocative headline: "You Think You've Got Tomatoes."

My mental response was: "Yes, in fact, I think I do."

But, of course, I had to read the article. They had waved a red tomato in front of a gardening bull.

The story was about a trendy place to shop for vegetables in where else? California.

It is called The Berkeley Bowl Marketplace. Berkeley for the city in which it is located. Bowl for the bowling alley in which it was originally located.

This store claims to have the "largest produce section in Northern California all year-round." But, during tomato season, they go crazy.

Picture the tomato section in your local supermarket. Let me guess: you are envisioning some cherry tomatoes, some hydroponic tomatoes, some regular old slicers and some Romas. Basically four or five varieties of tomatoes.

The Berkeley Bowl Marketplace, on the other hand, features 10 varieties of cherry tomatoes alone: "Santa grapes, pesticide-free Sweet 100s, red cherry, mixed medley" and so on.

They have 20 varieties of so-called heirloom tomatoes. You know, the kind of tomatoes grown in the decades before Burpee and others started developing hybrids like Early Girl, Big Boy, Beefsteak and the like. The Berkeley Bowl has 20 varieties of those old-time tomatoes.

And, for good measure, they have another 20 varieties of modern tomatoes that we see all the time. They have the aforementioned Early Girls along with more exotic choices with names like Brentwood Large and Odorikos.

Odorikos? Give me a break. So-named because they smell so tomato-y. There is even an anecdote in the story about a woman who "pulled a bag of Odorikos from her cart and shoved them under my nose," exhorting the author of the article to "smell these."

Did I mention that this was in California? Wacky.

But mostly as I read the article I was taken by how little a tomato lover like myself would want to visit such a place.

Instead, I have been obsessed with a single tomato plant for more than three months now.

It is the one I planted alongside my driveway just after the last threat of frost passed in May, a Better Boy.

To paraphrase the fictional baseball player Chico Esquela (seen on "Saturday Night Live" before I even had cable), this tomato plant has been very, very good to me.

It is both caged and staked. During the peak of its growing cycle, it was more than six feet tall. It has foliage that turned as ugly as a warthog in the recent withering heat.

But, boy, did it produce some tasty tomatoes.

Yes, they had some cracks in the shoulders.

And, no, they were not quite pretty enough to feature in a produce ad.

But I promise you there is no stinking Odoriko I could love like I did any tomato I plucked from that vine.

In fact, at this stage of the growing season, I have pretty much loved those tomatoes to pieces (or, more accurately, slices).

So take that you smug New York Times headline writer. Yes, I think I've got tomatoes. They are more fun and more precious to me than any I could find in Berkeley.

Best of all, they are right out by my driveway. And I grew them.

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