It wasn’t all that long ago that the only way you could enjoy tomatoes that really tasted like tomatoes was to grow your own. When I was growing up as a kid in southern Michigan we always had a backyard garden and in addition to corn, squash, potatoes, and beans we always had a few tomato plants.
I can remember sitting on our shaded, back yard picnic table eating the tomatoes we had just picked right from our hand sprinkling them with only a little salt… It was like eating, candy they were so sweet.
Truth be told, it was my mother who tended the plants and I remember her telling us what a labor of love they were as it was a chore keep away the ‘tomato hornworm’ caterpillars from devouring the fruit.
A few years ago when I was living up on ‘Top of the World’ in Laguna Beach I got the urge to grow some tomatoes. Remembering my Mom’s challenges, I naively thought I’d outsmart the critters by planting them on the second deck of our home. The deck enjoyed full sun all day long and surely my plants would be safe from caterpillars 25 feet off the ground, on a wall protected deck. So I bought two large pots, filled them with tree-hugging, Miracle-Gro infused potting soil, and planted two of the finest specimen heirloom tomato plants I could find at the local nursery. Having always been an early riser I was up at sunrise with my steaming cup of French Roast watering the twins and checking for any alien invaders. Weeks went by and the plants began growing at almost an alarming rate and began bearing loads of tomatoes… all was well in ‘Green Acres’. The tomatoes were just about at the stage to be picked when, coincidentally, I was off to Palm Springs for a three day weekend.
Up early the morning after I returned I went out to the deck anxious to harvest my first picking when I saw the destruction. My plants had been overrun by a legion of hornworms that, in my ignorance, had been hiding on the underside of the leaves.
These days I simply visit my local weekend Farmer’s Market where I can have my pick of any number of varieties of colorful heirloom tomatoes each summer and enjoy them without the anxiety and disappointment attached to growing my own. The beauty of heirlooms is that they need little adornment or seasonings… their natural flavor is the main event. I’ve included one of my favorite ways of enjoying them as a starter summer salad.
Recipe – Summer Heirloom Tomato Tower
You can also add shrimp or Dungeness crab and this becomes a satisfying entree salad for lunch or a warm weather dinner.
» Selection of heirloom tomatoes — select a variety of colors and shapes including cherry size
» Blue Cheese — good domestic brand
» Red onion
» Extra virgin olive oil… spend the money on the best you can find… I like fruity flavor profile one
» High quality red wine vinegar
» Balsamic syrup (optional)
» Fresh Basil
» Sea salt
» Freshly ground black pepper
» Slice larger tomatoes into 3/8″ thick slices and cut cherry size in half through the stem side.
» Slice red onion into slices… Thickness is a personal preference depending on how much texture contrast you prefer to the tomatoes.
» Layer the large slices of tomatoes with the red onions and place the cut cherry tomatoes around the outside of the plate.
» Drizzle the tomatoes with a couple tablespoons of olive oil then sprinkle one tablespoon of red wine vinegar.
» Crumble blue cheese on top of salad. There are several really good brands of American made blue cheese available and since JFAT is all about America I always buy domestic.
» Next stack and roll a few of the larger basil leaves together and slice cross-cut into very fine ribbons (chiffonade) and sprinkle across top of tomatoes.
» Sprinkle tomatoes with sea salt and grind fresh pepper over the top to taste. (optional) Drizzle a teaspoon of balsamic syrup around outside of plate.
» Place basil crown on top of tomato and enjoy!