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August 25, 2011



More seriously, the world became a poorer place when Raymond Sokolow shuffed off this mortal coil. His columns in Natural History magazine were a joy.

One of my friends grows Cherokee Purple, and you haven't exaggerated the taste sensation one bit. He made a pizza last Friday with olive oil, mozz, peppers, onions, garlic, loads of tomato slices, and finely chopped anchovy that was among the best I've ever had.

I quite like Brandywine heirlooms too.

Oh, you are making me very hungry for a fresh, ripe tomato. Which hardly exist at all, anywhere, these days; what's in most stores and even the farmer's markets in the area are more like pink-colored tennis balls.

The Insalata Caprese is something we've had before on a number of occasions, and it really only works with a real tomato. Otherwise you're just eating styrofoam with cheese, basil and some balsamic vinegar on it. Balsamic vinegar is what we use instead of olive oil; you should give it a whirl if you haven't already done so.

This is one of the things that has me miss Alabama on a regular basis; there we were able to grow tomatoes and grow them right; here the combination of fungus and bugs means that growing tomatoes is a high-maintenance task that we just don't have the time to invest in. I have a friend who produces some good tomatoes, but he has to work at it. Plus, he's been growing tomatoes in Central Florida for four and a half decades, so he knows a few tricks. We can grow the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, sometimes, and those are teh yum, but they're not QUITE the same as a big, fleshy tomato that you have to cut in thick slabs that are so tasty that sometimes you just eat them all by their lonesome.


Jealous, me.

Other tasty variations on your insalata: different kinds of basil. Basil has a variety of other flavors that add some subtlety; there's lemon basil and thai basil and spicy globe basil and many others. My favorite is one that has strong anise overtones; I think that's the thai basil.

Our summer standard is spaghettini estivi, which is basically thin spaghetti, buttered, with a cold (real) tomato sauce. Heirlooms from the Durham Farmers Market on Saturday (which is why we usually have this Saturday night) peeled and chopped with basil, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper. That's it. Takes a while to prep (because it's not easy to peel & chop heirloom tomatos, most of which have odd corners and unexpected fibrous bits), but the actual cooking & serving takes next to no time. And it is WONDROUS. (And all the people said, "Amen.")


Your experience is a major part of Estabrook's point. Southern Florida is, objectively speaking, one of the worst places in the US to grow tomatoes: soil, climate, ecology are all wrong. Yet it is one of the places where the most tomatoes are grown, solely because it's warmish in winter. This only "works" because they're grown as an industrial process in which the human workers, too, are just another feedstock.

Chero-purple what??? Those are JERSEY tomatoes. I knew that the second I saw them.

There's a bit more to it than that, Doc. Here in CF, at least, there are actually two tomato growing seasons: spring and fall. Problem is, tomato plants won't set fruit until the nights get warm enough, so by the time the spring crop fruit start to ripen, the bugs, fungus, and heat are killing them. With the fall crop it's kind of backward: if you plant them in time to set fruit when it's cooling off so that bugs & fungus aren't so much of a problem, you're lucky to get a round or two of fruit before they stop setting.

All of which is, possibly, his point. It is in fact possible to grow decent tomatoes here, but it's damned hard. And the ag combines aren't ever about growing decent tomatoes in the first place, so expecting that result is unrealistic. Don't even get me started on peaches and pears, and I've gotten avocadoes in the market that never went through that creamy-rich phase; they just went directly from hard as bowling balls to ridden with rot.

Potatoes? Also, don't get me started.

I don't care where you live; your own garden will be your best bet for produce. If you can't at least make THAT happen, you're either living in the wrong place, or not networking and reading enough.

I have a running argument with my girlfriend that our garden should be 90%+ tomatoes instead of the ~10 plants that we have (along with peppers, dill, tons of basil, rhubarb, squash, zucchini, and others). A garden zucchini is awesome and picking and eating raspberries is a thrill, but there is nothing that can compare to plucking a beautiful, home grown, pesticide-free heirloom tomato off the vine.

Insalata caprese, Caprisian Salad. We used two kinds of basil, green and purple.
I think we've had ~4-5 of these so far this season and I'm not tired of it yet. Our basil is one of the 3 varieties in the yard - genovese (pretty standard), lemon basil, or Thai basil (a common purple variety)

A most impressive pizza. Sort of like a Margarita Pizza, but with pesto in place of basil? And the goat cheese, of course.

A margarita pizza sounds like it would have tequila, lime, Triple Sec and some brandy, with a little salt.

Some people like Cointreau instead of Triple Sec.

Only two things money can't buy,
and that's true love and home grown tomatoes.

--Guy Clark

Slarti--one would think, yet a Margarita pizza has cheese, sliced tomato and basil. Usually thin crust.


From Wikipedia (where else?):

In 1889, during a visit to Naples, Queen Margherita of Italy was served a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). This kind of pizza has been named after the Queen as Pizza Margherita.

I've got 15 tomato plants in my garden right now. IIRC, there are 5 grape tomato plants, 2 cherry, 4 plum and 4 "standard". They've started to ripen over the past two weeks (mostly the grape, though I did pick a big plum tomato just the other day). MUCH more to come.

I'm not sure of the exact varieties as I bought them as seedlings from a local farm and didn't ask.

Tomato and basil plants dominate my garden. They're pretty easy to grow and I use lots of both in my cooking.

I've got some cucumbers (2), some snap peas (did pretty well but then got ravaged by something - likely birds) and unfortunately the carrots and lettuce failed (the seed was old and probably no good anymore). In the past I've done bell peppers (fail - I think they want more heat), corn (eh, ok), broccoli (did pretty well but I just don't like the stuff enough to bother again) and squash (ditto, plus my neighbor grows a ridiculous amount and tends to give some to me).

In past years I've gone for more variety. This year I simplified - go with what I know will work and we'll use. Next year I'll try lettuce & carrots again, but with new seed. I'd also like to get some Thai basil, since I have a couple of Thai recipes that could use it.

The one problem I've had to battle (largely unsuccessfully) is blight. I hate that stuff, man.



Sorry. I'm from Jersey. You can't swing a dead cat (which we're always doing) without hitting a pizzeria or an Italian restaurant around here.

deadcatswinger could be your new handle should you ever tire of hairshirthedonist.

joel hanes, Sokolov's not dead, unless you mean something else by "shuffled off this mortal coil". Indeed, he's even tweeting.


My original comment on this was, I confess, a spelling flame wearing a clown nose and floppy shoes.

An old food enthusiast buddy and I have long maintained that the best food ingredients are somehow akin to sex - ineffably wonderful - whether it's the texture, the complex smells or tastes, or whatever. I'll let you fill in the blanks, but just think of creamy french goat cheese, or fire-roasted garlic-and-rosemary-encrusted lamb, get the idea.

A great tomato like the one above has a thousand shades of smells and tastes. More complex than any novel. A real tomato is to a FL industrial simulacra as a human body is to one of those expensive latex (?) 'love' dolls.

Thus the statement: "She was a real tomato!"

Sokolov's not dead

So he isn't.
Well I'll be dipped ...

I wonder how I became convinced otherwise. Thanks for catching this.

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