The Demise Of The Tomato

Posted on 20. Jul, 2008 by in Uncategorized

The Demise of the Tomato
By Ken Schulte

What happened to the good ole days of a tomato? What I mean is this, have you gone to the grocery store to buy a tomato lately? It is a crying shame to the consumer but a shot in the profit margins for the business owner. Think about this, because of the change in economy and the way fruits and vegetables are shipped all over the planet, tomatoes are now picked green and left to ripen on the way to your house. I have to object long and loud on this one and here is why. When I was young I worked on a vegetable farm, and we picked the tomatoes when they were ripe, and then they went to market. It was a simple concept, let them grow, pick when ready.

So why should this bug me? Well first of all, a tomato that is vine ripened tastes incredible. It’s a cornucopia of flavor that can win your heart for fall tomatoes and olive oil. In the past, stores had different types of tomatoes but they all looked pretty good. If you went to the farmers stand on the corner in the country, you could get even nicer tomatoes. Now we are stuck with this pasty tasteless derivative of an old favorite. The funny part is, you can now choose to buy the premium vine ripe tomatoes for twice the price, if you want some flavor. These are the same tomatoes that used to be available all the time.

Restaurant owners

I really feel sorry for a chef. Not the cooks you find in some chain restaurant, but a real chef who insists on great ingredients and knows what flavor really is. There was incredible deli that I use to walk into to get their tomato and basil sandwiches. The Italian owner was a genius. He knew what made a tomato great and he knew what made a tomato taste better. The first thing you would do is ask “hey Lou, how the tomatoes look today?” He would smile and tell you to buy something else if they did not look like they should. So how is guy like Lou going to make a name for himself if the basic lifeline of an Italian chef is victim to mass production? My hat is off to you if you can find a way to make a decent red sauce without the can. (that’s another story too)

Old School

My grandpa was the chief tomato grower in our family. He would grow like a zillion plants and in the fall we would have to give them away because we had so many. But he could tell you when to pick it and how to pick it and what would taste good with it. Unfortunately his English was horrible and he did not have any teeth, but he knew how to cook. I would think he would have a real problem with the grocery stores of today.


Our only chance left is the old fashioned fruit stands of yesteryear. But even those great little businesses understand it’s about moving volume. Volume does not taste good to me. Of course you could grow your own garden and then your problems are solved. Now if you do, it really comes down to a matter of dirt. Some states have better dirt for growing than others. My favorites are Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey for a good beefsteak. Anyone trying to grow a tomato in Florida should be flogged for ignorance, the dirt just ain’t right. (neither is the water, but that is another story)

So what’s a guy with some decent basil, some good olive oil, just the right amount of onions, and garlic supposed to do? It’s getting pretty hard to explain to your boss why you need a couple of weeks off in the fall to go and eat some decent sauce.

Ken Schulte is a contributing editor to Technocooks. Technocooks is an Italian cooking blog for geeks who like to cook. Technology pays the bills but cooking clears the mind.

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