We spend years trying to develop just the right relationship with the tomato.
They come in hundreds of varieties, various sizes, shapes and flavors.
We like them raw, cooked, canned, dried and fried. We put them on pizza, pasta, salads, soup and stews. What is it about a tomato that makes it so appealing?
Lycopene, (which is said to increase when tomatoes are cooked), is the medicinal property that reduces the chances of heart attacks and fights cancer cells. There are tons of vitamins and minerals too; Tomatoes are an excellent source vitamin C, biotin, molybdenum, and vitamin K. They are a very good source of copper, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin B6, folate, niacin, vitamin E, and phosphorus.
All good healthy information, but I am addicted to the incredible taste of a fresh picked summer tomato. We call them “Mayters” down south, and a favorite, to die for, is the “mayter samich”. My father first introduced me to the tomato sandwich when I lived in Washington DC. Back then, he would take my brother and me to the Florida Avenue farmers market where fresh tomatoes and other local crops were sold. Dad’s favorite was the famous “Beef Steak”. Blood red and wide enough for a single slice to cover the entire slice of bread. He would cut thick slices, hit them with salt and pepper and lay them on a slice of bread that was well dressed with mayonnaise…both sides. That was it! It didn’t need nothing else. When you bit into that sandwich, juice would run down your cheek, over your hands and drip on your chest. The technique required you to make a clean bite and suck the juice at the same time, all the while trying not to drag the slice of tomato out of the sandwich. When the juice mixed with the mayonnaise, it would create a taste that was unforgettable. We could eat those tomato sandwiches till “the cows came home”.
Now my mother, she would take a basket of tomatoes and cut them up, then sauté them with onions and green peppers. She would pour the mixture over rice and called it Spanish rice. We loved those tomatoes, any way they were coming. Then there was my grandmother who spent most days in the kitchen throwing down all kinds of delicacies. One of my favorites was her tomatoes stewed with corn and bread cubes. Once again, the tomato would be king of the kitchen. And mama and grama queen knew just what to do with the king. I have duplicated some of those old family recipes using brown rice and whole wheat breads. The tradition lives on. At my house, the tomato is still king.
Tomatoes are very hearty. They pop up, as volunteers in garden beds all around the house. Especially in the compost bins, where the seeds from tomatoes thrown away come back to life wherever they can find fertile soil. Often, I just let them grow where they are and try to guess what kind they will grow up to be. We also plant several beds of tomatoes strategically so that we have plenty all summer and extra to freeze or can for the winter.
Every summer for as long as I can remember, growing tomatoes has been a passion for me. I have grown many varieties, but none can compete with the “beef steak”. Beef steak tomatoes grow in funny shapes…sometimes quite ugly. But, never the less, they have the taste and bulk to make up for any disfigurement. Of the many other varieties I have liked, the plum tomato, grape tomato and more recently, the dark red, black-brick color heirloom Paul Robeson tomato. It has an amazing flavor that is so distinctive, sweet and smokey. Its 7-10 oz. fruit are perfect for that tomato sandwich. Named in honor of the famous opera singer star of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Brother Paul Robeson was an equal rights advocate who stood up to the infamous McCarthy committee in the 1950's and had his career nearly destroyed as a result. He was idolized in Russia as well as all around the world. This Russian heirloom was lovingly named in his honor. We have adopted the “Paul” here in Charlotte NC and each year save the seeds and replant them again and again. I just ate one a moment ago and it inspired me to write about the wonderful taste of tomatoes. Ummm, I think I might go and make another “mayter samich” right now.