Posts tagged heirloom tomatoes

Tomato snob

I don’t know tomatoes. I suppose I know them enough. I eat them and love them and know not to buy them in January, when their bright waxy redness is a little too Stepford.


But I don’t know tomatoes, at least the be-all-end-all heirlooms. I have no academic knowledge informing me of the distinctions between Mortgage Lifters and Cherokee Purples, between White Wonders and Green Zebras. I’m not a hands-in-dirt kind of person (I have yet, as a card-carrying adult, to grow a single vegetable), the type who might be handy at identifying Brandywines or Black Krims. (And what might those of esteemed tomato knowledge be called anyway? Tomateys [following the pattern of ‘wineys’]? Tom Snobs? They’re out there, self-importantly tomato-name dropping.)

I may be ignorant, but I’m blissfully buying these tomatoes anyway. The girls and I wandered head-on into a great jumble of heirlooms in giant cardboard bins at the market the other day. Of course we stocked up, making our selections based on this quirk or that lump, this variegation or that dottiness. We bought more than we thought we could eat, because how could we choose? This petite yellow pointy one or this weighty burgundy one?

And, even though we don’t know the names of what we’re eating, we’re being rewarded for our dauntless sampling of these tomatoes in all their ornamental and flavor diversity.

The remarkable thing, the thing I can’t stop marveling over? Each tomato tastes different, and none taste just plain ‘tomato.’ One had a rich, winey taste. Another was almost beefy, if that’s possible. One had a definite sour punctuation.

So although names have poetic and practical place, who cares what these tomatoes are called when they taste so good? I’m not about to stop dripping tomato slush down my chin to check my heirloom tomato flashcards.

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Indulge me

My latest favorite snippet of copywriting genius came yesterday in the J. Crew catalog. It refers to an Italian calfskin bag and, I quote: “Is it a splurge if it’s completely worth it?

Immediately my thoughts turned to tomatoes. Specifically heirloom, that rainbow resurrection that’s been going on for some years now. Not that I easily toss off thoughts of pretty leather handbags; no, I’ve lost days to handbag dreaming.

But I think it would be a productive exercise for us to consider that word ‘splurge’ for a sec. A splurge is the opposite of economical, hardly provident, never necessary. It’s something superfluous, frivolous, but that you spend money on anyway. An indulgence.

Like a tricked-out, tasseled and pebbled Italian leather bag. Like heirloom tomatoes.

If all you take into account is the cost of something (especially when you compare it to the availability of a similar item of baser quality and a much lower price), than heirloom tomatoes can qualify as splurge material. Then again, heirloom tomatoes can be necessary on so many levels. They are, I learned yesterday, a necessary accompaniment to a fine round of recently acquired bucheron. A called-for late afternoon snack, sliced and flecked with sea salt. An irresistible lure for a hungry, curious kindergartner who really should progress her palate beyond her prized grape tomatoes.

In short, completely worth it.

So does their worth make them a splurge, or an essential? Or something of far greater consequence, as the couple shopping next to me concluded while selecting this and that tomato. I quote: “Let’s just have these for dinner.”

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