Monday, March 29, 2010

attack of the heirloom tomatoes!

tomatoes are the plants i most look forward to growing this year. i’m doing nearly all heirloom varieties: paul robeson, marvel striped, big rainbow, white currant, black from tula, aunt ruby’s german green, brandywine red, cherokee purple, dixie golden giant and tomande. knowing me, that list will grow before the end of april. some of these are the big monster ones that get up to 2-2 ½ pounds. i’ve never grown tomatoes from seed before, so wish me luck.

i think heirloom tomatoes are gorgeous. there’s a big deal made of them being ugly because they don’t fit the typical smooth/round/red ripe tomato schema. they have so much personality though. if i succeed in growing these things i plan to do individual, formal portraits of all the most eccentric fruits. wouldn’t that be a great photo project? i can’t wait.

i admit the german green ones do look disturbing though, at least once sliced...i think they look like zombified brains.

i have a weird relationship with tomatoes. i’ve always liked tomato products, soup and juice and ketchup and such, but until recently i hated the raw fruit itself. for the past two summers i’ve grown huge tomato plants with awesome yields, and i so desperately wanted to get that same intense enjoyment from eating the homegrown tomatoes that i saw everyone else getting. i was in love with the idea of tomatoes.

i kept trying and trying to like them, thinking my taste would magically change or i’d acquire a taste for them. finally, a few months ago, i sliced up some grape tomatoes to use as a plate garnish, and i ate them, and they were delicious! i got excited and popped a whole grape tomato in my mouth, and it was gross. so it turns out i can enjoy tomatoes, but for some reason i have to slice them first.

so far i’ve mostly only eaten small tomatoes and i’m not sure if the rules will change for larger ones. i’m overjoyed that i like them now; i even get cravings for them! there is no other food i’d rather have gotten over my finickyness about. i think i’m still just slightly allergic to them but it’s worth it.

it’s depressing at the end of the season when you still have a ton of green tomatoes that won’t ripen in time...i know there are ways to make them ripen but i’ve never bothered before, maybe i will this year. i thrifted this cookbook the other day, full of recipes that utilize green tomatoes. cookies, breads, relishes, jams, pies, casseroles; even ice cream, and “green tomato wine”! i particularly want to try “eggless green tomato cake,” “end-of-the-garden pickles” and “french-fried green tomatoes.”

the author included a forward where she writes about techniques for growing tomatoes, and she mentioned something i’d never heard of before: japanese tomato rings. it’s a pretty neat idea. i’m not going to try it this year because i’ve already made layout plans that involve stakes, cages, a straight fence and a trellis, and a ring wouldn't fit in; but maybe someday in the future.

i am, however, going to try a topsy-turvy tomato planter for the first time. i was planning on making my own out of a 5-gallon bucket or a 2-liter soda bottle, but in a moment of weakness/impulsivity i picked up the real deal. i think i’m still going to make at least one out of a bucket, because using that method you can also plant the top with herbs, so it’s a huge space-saver. i might even do a few soda bottle ones because they’re little and cute.

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