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Chicago Area Tomatoes

Oak Park Farmers' Market, 09/04/02: Tomato Tour 2002 (cont)


Markets & Stores

Oak Park Farmers' Market, 09/04/02: Tomato Tour 2002 (cont)

David Hammond | Sep 14, 2002 11:38 AM

Came to the Oak Park Farmers' Market this time with pretty much one thing on my mind: tomatoes.

There’s a quaint old Italian custom that says you should make a wish whenever you eat something new. Today, I got to make four wishes.

The four new things I ate were all heirloom tomatoes, purchased from Nichols and Skibbes, and looking like huge brilliant jewels in the Oak Park sunlight. I took them home and ate them without and then with salt to detect subtle flavor nuances.

Rainbows. Today’s selection of these much-vaunted tomato treasures are bright orange and yellow with veins of deep red; not very acidic, slightly sweet with citrus undertones, tender yet firm flesh with small pockets of tiny seeds. These are just beautiful tomatoes – they would look great on sandwiches, providing a whole lot of color and taste.

German Pinks: Uniformly hideous in appearance – all lumpy and gray and bluish, kind of like a blunt trauma injury -- the exterior gruffness hides an inner charm, a refreshing hint of fruit, balanced by flatter tones throughout, and an almost musty aftertaste. Fairly high seed to flesh ratio, but very good taste, and rich purple in color with crimson spikes.

Orange: Good color, rich golden tone, but looks, apparently, aren’t everything; this “low acid” tomato is lacking somewhat in flavor compared to the others I tried this morning, but still very good compared to national chain tomatoes.

Black Prince: Eggplant-colored, with deep blackberry blues and reds (very similar to German Pink); my favorite of the day, with a suggestions of sea breeze (strange in a tomato, I know – but I call ‘em like I taste‘em), and earthy freshness that seemed to touch a range of different taste buds.

Heirloom tomatoes have a cache like wild mushrooms – they’re rare, unusual, sometimes scary looking, but very delicious. They feel, in their unusualness, almost outside the pale of regular commercial enterprise, passed down from grandmother's grandmother's grandmother, almost sacred. So much more than proto-catsup.

Tomatoes, like every other crop, are naturally going to vary with each farm, batch, etc., but I think from this introduction to four new forms of tomato life, that I have picked a winner for today’s Oak Park Farmer’s Market Foray…it’s the Black Prince, by a nose.


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