Ode to Tomatoes and the Farmers Who Grow Them

Well, maybe not really an ode, but definitely a deep and heart felt written appreciation for local tomatoes.  It’s finally time!  The tomatoes are here!  Today I got a few Hanovers; two Cherokee Purples; two Lemon Boys; and a pint of Sweet 100s. YUM!  I have a little ritual with the first local heirloom tomato of the season.  I buy it at the farmers’ market around 8, making sure that it was picked just the day before.  I run the rest of my errands, wash a few dishes, water the garden, whatever.  When it’s time for my mid-morning snack I pull out my Duke’s mayonnaise, some bread and maybe a cucumber from the fridge and add them to the tomatoes on the counter.  I make the world’s second best tomato sandwich and eat it right there at the counter with the juice running down my hands.  Ahhh, Summer.

I know, you’re thinking, “Second best tomato sandwich?  What could be better than a local heirloom tomato direct from the farmer who grew it?”  The world’s best tomato sandwich every year is the first one I make with a tomato picked out of my own garden just minutes before time to eat.  My slicing tomatoes come in a little later in the year so I have to wait a few weeks for that.

I’m sure you’re beyond tired of hearing me talk about buying local, but please just give it a shot.  It’s easy and it matters.  In my part of the world there’s a market (or two or three) more weekday evenings than not and a dozen or more of them on Saturdays.  If you can, take small bills and maybe your checkbook.  Small bills are always appreciated and lots of folks can’t take credit cards, but they’ll take personal checks.  Lots of markets are now set up to accept food stamps as well.  Please support those markets.  They’re doing a really good thing.

A few tips that will make you a superstar to your farmers’ market vendors.  We’ve covered small bills. (Last week I saw a woman pick up $8 of produce and ask the grower to break a $100 bill.  Really?  That doesn’t make you any friends).  Bring your own bags.  It’ll be easier for you to carry one large market bag than a bunch of small plastic or paper ones.  Return your containers.  Lots of growers will dump small boxes of tomatoes or beans or potatoes into paper bags so they can reuse their boxes.  For berries, eggs and a few other things you’ll take the product home in the container.  When it’s empty just put it in your market bag so you’ll have it the next time you go.  Return it to the vendor.  It’s the best possible way to recycle and it helps keep prices down.  Strike up a conversation.  Folks are more than happy to tell you where their stuff is grown, when they pick for market day, how their animals live and offer cooking tips and recipe recommendations.  These folks know food.  It’s how they make their living.  Take advantage of having them right there!

The cool thing about getting tomatoes at the farmers’ market is that you can try varieties that you’ll never find in the grocery store. The tomatoes in the major grocery stores are mostly hybrid tomatoes bred to be perfectly round and travel well in refrigerated trucks.  Basically they look pretty, but they don’t taste like much.  At the farmers’ market there are Cherokee Purples, Pink Brandywines, Mortgage Lifters, Yello Pears, Juliets, Mr. Stripeys, Green Zebras and dozens more varieties.  The growers can tell you which ones make good sauce or good salsa or good sandwiches.  You just can’t beat it unless you grow them yourself.  And even then you can learn a little something from the professionals!

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