Fat Elvis

August 1, 2010

Thornapple members picked up some wonderful tomatoes at their weekly delivery this week. For the Thompson family, this signals a time to stop in at the grocery store and pick up some ordinary cottage cheese. I say “ordinary” because there is nothing better to go with fresh, juicy summer tomatoes than the bland, liquid type of cottage cheese you get from the major chains store brand. In fact, not even Dean Foods makes a decent cottage cheese for eating with tomatoes. And none of this piquant, curdy or cheesy stuff you get from the so-called quality brands. I’d love to find an organic brand of cottage cheese that could cut the mustard for eating with that acidic bliss you get from summer tomatoes, but everything available locally is just too arty for my taste. It’s one time of the year that I am definitely heading to Meijer or Kroger.

All of which puts me in a mind to reveal one of my long held dreams for getting rich. I want to open up a chain of drive through restaurants that sells fresh, ripe tomatoes cut in chunks and topped with my preferred style of cottage cheese. Fine ground black pepper will be available on request. That and some cold cereal with milk and a generous helping of fresh Michigan blueberries is just about all I’m going to need to get by for the next six weeks or so. And I can’t imagine that other people wouldn’t see things the same way if they ever got a taste of this wonderful combination. The only trick will be to source enough of the right kind of cottage cheese. It used to be plentiful in my youth, but as tastes have become “sophisticated” it’s getting harder and harder to find. But if I can operate these drive-throughs on a large enough scale, I’m sure I can commission some organic supplier to make the right kind of cottage cheese.

And then there are the tomatoes, of course. I personally love the heirloom tomatoes we are getting from Thornapple right now. I notice that some people don’t seem to get it. They think that tomatoes are supposed to be bright red, with no pithy parts and of generally softball size and shape. How wrong you are, deluded youth. You are supposed to have ugly tomatoes that come in shades of purple, pink and yellow to orange with huge woody stems, tough skins and bulbous globules that bulge out at irregular angles. My Nana never grew a tomato that she did not feel obligated to peel, and she grew the best tomatoes under creation. You just trim off the inedible parts and put them in the compost heap. Tomatoes are so plentiful when you can get them at all, that you don’t think twice about tossing away those rotting, pussy and fibrous bits that constitute the top half of some really good heirloom tomatoes. Get used to it, and you will find yourself eating some of the best food to come out of the garden all summer long. Texas songwriter Guy Clark has it about right:

Get you a ripe one don’t get a hard one
Plant `em in the spring eat `em in the summer
All winter without `em’s a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin’ & diggin’
Everytime I go out & pick me a big one

Homegrown tomatoes homegrown tomatoes
What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love & homegrown tomatoes

But in fact, all the tomatoes coming out of the Thronapple plots are pretty damn good with cottage cheese, even the regular varieties. So if I can wrap up enough supplier contracts I’m sure I can make a fortune with my drive-through restaurant idea. The only problem is that you can’t make a drive through restaurant work on six to eight weeks of business, and you will not catch me serving those boxy tomatoes that have been bred to withstand the thirty mile impact that they get when they are hurled into a truck by a mechanical tomato harvester at my drive in restaurants. Nooo. So my idea is that when the tomatoes go out of season, we will serve canned peaches with our cottage cheese. I want to call my restaurant chain “Fat Elvis”, if I can just get Priscilla and Lisa Marie to go along with it.

Well I’ve probably blown my chance at untold fortune by giving this great idea away in my blog, but fortunately I’ve got fresh Thornapple tomatoes sitting downstairs on the kitchen counter, and Walker and I stocked up on massive quantities of cottage cheese on Friday afternoon. So I’m outta here, right now. If anyone capitalizes on Fat Elvis, the least you can do is send me check.

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University