Friday, September 07, 2007

hail tomato

It’s happened. I’ve joined the Cult of the Heirloom Tomato. This cult has strong cells in Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Silver Lake, and last night I discovered that it’s infiltrated South Pasadena.

It began innocently enough. A few days after my mom died in 2003, when flowers and cards were pouring in, my friend Heather brought me a Miss Piggy candy cane and vegetables from her dad’s garden. Clearly, Heather was a friend who Got It. The vegetables included a few zucchini and the most delicious homegrown tomato I’d ever tasted. I sliced it up, salted it and ate it for lunch that day.

Looking back on it, cults always prey on the desperate, don’t they?

For the most part, I’ve been content to buy flavorless grocery store Romas. I don’t live near a farmer’s market, and I’m not in the Whole Foods income bracket, so temptation alluded me.

But then Ralphs on La Brea started carrying heirloom tomatoes. Once upon a time, a perfectly round, red, machine-ripened tomato that could survive a 1,000-mile truck ride must have seemed like small miracle to farmers and eaters. But we’re so post that. Now the mottled skin of these asymmetrical ancient varieties gleamed from the faux-country straw basket in which they were lovingly nested next to a small sign that said “Heirloom tomatoes, $7.99/lb.”

Hell no, I’m not paying $7.99 a pound for tomatoes, I thought. I walked away, proud of being a smart consumer.

Then I saw a nearly identical basket that said, “Heirloom tomatoes, Ralphs Club price $3.99/lb.” Hell yeah, I thought, as if bananas weren’t 19 cents a pound.

By the time I visited the South Pasadena Library last night for a reading by organic farmer and creative nonfiction writer David Mas Masumoto—a man whose description of ripe peaches is second only to Roald Dahl’s in terms of crave factor—I was helpless. Did I mention that the reading took place outside in the lovely, cool early-fall evening? Next to a farmer’s market?

You may not be surprised to learn that I bought peaches and tomatoes (and a bean and cheese pupusa, because a girl needs protein…and because the worst melted-cheese-on-cornmeal still rivals the best tomato). At $3.50 per pound, these tomatoes seemed like a virtual bargain. And although I was vague on the specifics, I was pretty sure I was saving the earth by buying them. I know cult members think they’re following God’s orders by taking eight wives too. All I can say is that I hope one of my wives knows how to make heirloom tomato soup.


jenny said...

a friend and i just had the most awesomest appetizer this week: heirloom tomato slices with sea salt, a balsamic vinaigrette reduction and chunks of 9-year aged wisconsin cheddar.

CHEDDAR AND TOMATOES! why haven't i been eating that my entire life?

Cheryl said...

Now I know what my after-work snack will be. I'll have one of my wives whip it up.

Veronica said...

if i can be one of your wives, i'll learn to make heirloom tomato soup.

thelastnoel said...

OH, god, as I get older, I'm more careful about what I eat. I see chemical free fruits and they're worth a small fortune. I buy it because it's better than pay a gazillion dollars for cancer treatment by eating all that whacked out food.

Cheryl said...

V: With this tomato, I now pronounce you a member of my cult.

N: I totally agree. But the Pop Tarts I ate last night beg to differ.

raquefella said...

hi cheryl!
love your blog back! and heirloom tomatoes are amazing though i'm less adventurous and only eat them in salads and pastas.

one day though.

bring your wives to BdP!

Cheryl said...

Thanks! Will do (or at least my girlfriend and a couple of friends).