October 23, 2011
It’s been a good eight to ten weeks since we had anything to say about tomatoes in the Thornapple blog, and as both regular readers know, tomatoes are not only a personal obsession, they are the driving value behind the entire local food movement in the United States. I won’t speak for Europe or Japan, but here in America, resistance to the industrial food system is predicated 96.3% on tomatoes that have been developed to withstand a 30 mile impact, then be gassed with ethylene before they sit on grocery shelves for 14-17 years before actually being sliced into pale pink discs or wedges to accompany iceberg lettuce in what the industrial food system refers to euphemistically as a “salad”.
And unfortunately, I’m not making any of this up. The big revolution occurred in the 1970s when those pesky scientists at the University of California collaborated with companies developing mechanical tomato harvesters. The harvesters (see one here) roll through the field ripping the vines out of the ground. They blow the leafy bits one direction and hurl the tomatoes into a waiting truck. Hence the need for a) all the tomatoes to be ready for picking at one time and b) the ability to with stand the impact of getting hurled into a truck. Breeding a tomato that does that was paid for by your tax dollars at work.
Even after the input of pesky plant breeders, green tomatoes are still better for this, but goofy nerds that that U.S. consumers are, they won’t buy green tomatoes. Hence the need for ethylene, which causes them to redden up. Or at least the skins redden up. One difference between a Thornapple tomato and one that has survived a 30 mile impact at some time in it’s life cycle is that our tomatoes look just as good on the inside as they do on the outside.
That part about multi-year shelf-life, however, may not be strictly true.
But it seems that many Thornapplists are very much like ordinary U.S. goofy nerd Meijer shoppers who pass on the green tomatoes. At least I have heard that baskets of green tomatoes have been languishing at the weekly Thornapple CSA pick-up stations. Well phooey on you because all those green tomatoes that were picked in late-August early September to avoid the killing frost have now pretty much gassed themselves. They may not have the succulence of a vine-ripened tomato, but they are most certainly red, inside and out. Red inside and out except for the Black Krim, which are not quite as black as they would have been, but still pretty obviously a different kettle of fish entirely.
(Note Well: The metaphor in the above paragraph is not intended to imply that Thornapple tomatoes contain fish genes. That’s a different kettle of fish [which is to say a different blog topic] entirely. We’re not going there, but this parenthetical comment satisfies my contractual obligation to supply at least one obscure reference in every blog that sends people scrambling to Google in order to figure out what the heck Thompson is talking about.)
So I’ve gotten those last tomato and cottage cheese season-ending treats here in October (or at least I have done so when I’ve been able to plant my feet in Michigan for a day or two). I’m also told that people have inexplicably passed on the poblano peppers. Poblanos are the prince of peppers, folks. Wonderful and subtle, and not really all that hot. They are the only proper way to make a chili relleno. I lack the temerity to provide a recipe, because I haven’t actually made a chili relleno in a long, long time. But it ain’t that tough and the Internet is replete with advice. Back to Google, my foodie compatriots! Learn to enjoy the bounty while it lasts.
Herb Magidson and Carl Sigman wrote it and Guy Lombardo had the hit. And I’m repeating a thought from last February’s Warren Zevon tribute, in any case. But our own Jen Sygit does a bang up version. I don’t recall whether she does this verse, but I’m going to close with it, in any case.
You worry when the weather’s cold, You worry when it’s hot. You worry when you’re doing well, You worry when you’re doing not. It’s worry, worry all of the time, You don’t know how to laugh. They’ll think of something funny When they write your epitaph.
Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink. The years go by, as quickly as wink. Enjoy yourself, Enjoy yourself It’s later than you think.
Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University