Sunday, August 16, 2009

At Long Last

Executive summary: Grow your own tomatoes. Heirlooms. Ideally, Caspian Pink.

Long winded version: It started last September. As the weather moved towards the first frost, I determined to save seeds from one of our last tomatoes, so that we could start seedlings indoors in the spring and get a jump start on the next summer's harvest. It was a good plan; too bad the coldest summer in memory had to come along this year. Better late than never, however; I think we're going to enjoy our first homegrown tomato tonight.

But I'd like to back up:

It actually started for us a couple of years ago. The reader is likely familiar with the term 'heirloom' as used to describe various agricultural products. It typically designates varieties of vegetables (and sometimes animals) that were once farmed but have been supplanted by newer varieties bred to incorporate superior ship-ability, shelf life, and appearance. The poster fruit for this sad state of affairs is the ubiquitous Red Delicious apple. Insipid to eat, but looks great in a still life. The newer stuff typically is photogenic at the expense of less-important qualities like, oh, flavor. As a result, it is almost impossible to buy a tomato worth eating. Even the "tomatoes on the vine" one finds at the supermarket are crunchy, tasteless spheroids. Better markets, like Dearborn's Westborn, may carry some heirloom variety tomatoes, but for around $3.50 apiece. And they are still picked before peak ripeness. Gotta grow your own, kiddies.

Mr. and Mrs. Cicerone are garden-impaired. Much of this has to do with being absorbed with other things. It's not that we don't like flowers, for example, it's just not where we apply our efforts most of the time. We have the worst lawn on our block, owing partly to my stated philosophy, vis: "Anything green, mowed short enough, is grass." We do have a lovely hibiscus hedge- check it out:

That sucker flowers for about two months in the summer. We love it. Needless to say, it was planted not by us but by a competent gardener, AKA Mr. Cicerone's Ma, AKA the Crazy Plant Lady. She couldn't stand seeing our barren yard, and applied corrective measures. Two years ago, she also planted a couple of tomato plants for us, one Early Girl (a modern grocery-store variety,) and one Caspian Pink. The tomatoes from both plants were good, but the Caspians are the best tomatoes we have ever eaten. They are also the ugliest tomatoes we have ever eaten-- streaky pink and green, lots of splits, large ungainly shape.

Left, Early Girl. Right, Caspian Pink.

Tasty produce was the key to overcoming our disinclination to gardening. The next year, we planted our own Caspian, plus another heirloom variety called Black Nyagous. The latter sounds like a skin condition, but produces bruise-colored but otherwise normal looking, delicious fruit. The seeds saved from last year's Caspians produced the three plants now bearing fruit this season. And since there's lots of basil growing by the back door, it looks like there's going to be a Caprese salad on the table tonight....

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