Winter Tomatoes

Well, you may be wondering why I posted the photo of the funky tomato. Why would anyone purchase a tomato in obvious stages of decomposition? I forgot to mention that the particular pictured tomato was not purchased but grown in our garden from a patch planted and coddled to such a late date that we actually could enjoy one fresh tomato in December. One side was definitely a bit funky, but the rest was winter bliss.

Earlier in the fall, I had just smacked my lips after a particularly satisfying sandwich and then pronounced that I would henceforth (pause for trumpet fanfare) only eat tomatoes in season and grown locally. When the statement was greeted with gasps of amazement, I then added, in order to assure that my companions would fall to the floor in shock and disbelief, "And furthermore (more trumpets), I will only eat heirloom tomatoes. Nothing else is worth it!"

Okay, I'm being a bit melodramatic, but I meant it at the time and I still mean it now. As I write on a frigid black and white winter day, verdant greens and luscious reds do seem far away. The rich-tasting, densely moist tomato slabs of heirloom ecstasy that we reveled in all summer are far in the past and far in the future. And so it is.

Perhaps in response to the determination in my proclamation, one son started researching ways to ripen green tomatoes after they have been picked ahead of an imminent frost. He found the suggestion online to store the unripe tomatoes with bananas, which emit a gas that assists ripening in nearby fruit. I haven't quite sorted out the political correctness of purchasing bananas from foreign lands in order to ripen our local tomatoes. But in the spirit of a school science project, purchase the bananas I did and we nestled several bunches of them with the green tomatoes plucked from that very late patch.

Results were mixed. Some tomatoes ripened; some tomatoes rotted. Perhaps more testing is suggested. But the singular hardy specimen that hung in there until Dec. 3 gets to be memorialized in the Frog Log. It was delicious and truly worthy of representing its fellow summer and fall-ripening cousins.

And now we are in tomato withdrawal. One son, who considers a sandwich a very unsatisfactory medium for trying to masticate dry bread and cheese without the lubrication of a juicy tomato, is not thrilled with my radical tomato stance. I relented at Christmas and, in Little House on the Prairie spirit, put one in his stocking. He laughed, and made the best of it in a holiday sandwich. But I maintain my position that it is not worth the expense to transport a pale representation of the real thing half way around the world so I can taste a very mild suggestion of a tomato (and that's a generous description).

I promise I won't be rude. If offered a tomato in a dish or salad from a friend, I will eat with gusto and won't pronounce or announce (unless it seems appropriate to open up a discussion of food choices :-). And actually this isn't such a sacrifice; for years we have eaten mostly our own stored or frozen veggies throughout the winter months. But no more drifting on tomatoes! And what about that unsatisfied son? Well, he has a birthday coming up!


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