Multiple JBF Award–winning writer Barry Estabrook recently won a 2011 JBF Journalism Award for his blog, politicsoftheplate.com, but it’s his new book, Tomatoland, about how industrial agriculture destroyed our most alluring fruit—and how it can be saved—that has been making headlines. Here, he tells us how to get the best tomatoes anytime of year.
Grow your own
Any spot that gets sunshine will do: balcony, patio, deck, or yard. Containers, potting mix, and seedlings are all you need to produce weeks of great-tasting tomatoes.
The closer a tomato is grown to your kitchen, the better it will be. The next best options can be found at your farmers’ market. Typically, a farmers’ market tomato has been picked fully ripe a day or two earlier. Supermarket tomatoes are frequently picked green, are gassed with ethylene to turn them red, and have a shelf life of more than a week.
Mix and match
What is the best tomato? My personal choices are Brandywines and Sun Golds, but the real answer is, none. Every tomato has its own distinctive taste, which will vary according to where a tomato is grown and the weather. Contrary to popular wisdom, choosing an heirloom variety doesn’t guarantee good taste. By purchasing several types and serving them together, you’ll create a sum more enticing than its parts.
Buy in bulk
When local tomatoes are at their peak, buy in bulk and make a pot of simple tomato sauce. Just chop the tomatoes and simmer with onions and garlic. Package single-meal-size quantities in plastic bags and freeze. You’ll have a supply of heat-and-serve pasta sauce that will beat anything from the store.
And when all else fails…
If you must buy an out-of-season tomato, check out those sold under the brand name Campari. They are small and expensive, but deliver the closest thing you’ll find in mid-January to real tomato taste. Grown hydroponically in greenhouses, they are never sprayed with pesticides.
Read more about Tomatoland at politicsoftheplate.com.