So you’re gonna tell me you don’t have no Lemon Boys, Pink Ladies, or Cherokee Purples?
Come on, man. You don’t got no Big Beefs, Yellow Pears, voluptuous Sun Prides, striated Green Zebras, fat German Johnsons, standard Brandywines, Kellogg Breakfasts, Celebritys? You’re gonna stand there and tell me you don’t got no Juliets, Sun Golds, White Wonders, Black Princes, Yellow Stuffers, Romas, Super Sweet 100s, Hillbillies or even one single Pink Pounder?
What I’m saying is: You better get yourself some heirloom tomatoes and get ‘em fast.
Tomato season is like Beaujolais Nouveau season, where people wait all year for a brief window of seminal opportunity to get the best ones. We aficionados wait until the beginning of July for the right to choose what we think will be the sweetest, least acidic, most versatile fruit to enjoy in our salads, sandwiches, pies and even desserts. We call it a vegetable and usually treat it like one, too.
In certain circles, they are sprinkled with sugar or basted with honey and dried in the sun until the skin curls up and the flesh gives up all its moisture in order for us to savor that flavor. Botanically, they’re berries. Technically, we don’t care. As long as they are ripe and easy for the pickin’.
Thousands of cultivars and varieties of summer’s favorite fruit of choice exist.
The Climax tomato is one cultivar that was developed at Whitaker Farms in Climax.
“There’s less core, less seeds,” says Hannah Trainer, an employee working at the Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmer’s Market. “It’s perfect for sandwiches. Our farmer worked with NC State to develop it.”
Generally I tend to buy my tomatoes — the last time I grew a tomato it was because I threw out a cardboard box that happened to have some seeds in it. In six weeks’ time, I had two stalks rising up behind my trash receptacle area.
And local farmers markets are flush with the fruit right now.
Some suggestions for your first tomato of the season: A BLT with thick strips of crispy, cured porkbelly; a pie piled high with slices, augmented with mayonnaise in an all-butter, hand-rolled crust; Catalonian tomato con pan with garlic-rubbed croutons topped with fresh crushed tomatoes.
My grandmother hailed from Bertie County, and every summer she would make a tomato pudding. The recipe was simple: overripe tomatoes, stale bread or day-old biscuits, granulated sugar and black pepper. These days, I make a crushed tomato vinaigrette that is laced with red wine and extra-virgin olive oil.
But the most ubiquitous recipe remains the classic tomato sandwich.
Harriet M. Welsch, title character of the children’s book Harriet the Spy took a tomato sandwich to school every day for five years — “her mouth watered at the memory of the mayonnaise.” She knew exactly what she was doing at age 11. She had grasped what many adults have yet to realize: Tomato sandwiches are perfect.
Perfect tomato sandwiches require ripe, juicy tomatoes, preferably fresh off the vine, from the farmer’s market or a roadside stand. If you don’t have a tomato like that, don’t make a tomato sandwich. This is not the time for gas-ripened supermarket tomatoes.
When you have the fresh tomato, you need only four other ingredients: White bread, salt, black pepper and mayonnaise.
There’s a stance that is only germane to tomato-sandwich eating: feet spread shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and torso leaned forward slightly so your chest is horizontal to the sink. Hold the sandwich with both hands, arms akimbo, elbows out. Take the first bite. Tomato juice will squirt from the sides of the bread. Bread crumbs may drop like fresh fallen snow. Mayonnaise will ooze out. Slippery seeds may cascade down your arms. Hopefully you’ve rolled up your sleeves.
When you’re finished eating, it will be easy to wash up and go on another search for another perfect tomato. Be on the lookout for Better Boys, Mountain Prides and Mortgage Lifters, and be prepared to take another messy bite.