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Organic Heirloom Tomatoes -- A Referendum (long)


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Organic Heirloom Tomatoes -- A Referendum (long)

DanaB | Oct 29, 2004 02:16 PM

Okay, I will start with a statement that I know the best tomatoes are the ones you grow yourself, or the ones you get at the farmer's market. And I also know that here in California we've had a spate of colder, rainy weather, and so any late-season tomatoes might not be that good. And that normally, off season, I buy the plum tomatoes imported from “Elsewhere.” Yet, last night, I was tempted by the heirloom tomato display at the Gelson’s Market in my ‘hood (that would be in Silverlake, near downtown Los Angeles). They were not just "heirloom" -- all pretty in their funky colors and off shapes -- but also organic. And looked *so* much more tempting for use in an avocado, tomato and onion salad (one of my stand by salads when I'm not in the mood to cook, but want something tasty to eat, because mmmm, avocado, makes everything good).

I bought three of them -- one yellow, one golden orange, and one a deep pink-red. The first I cut into, the little deep pink-red one, was a little overripe, but I figured, hey, it's organic, it's heirloom, and it's from Gelsons, so it's probably great. NOT. It was icky -- texture-wise, it was on the mealy side, flavor-wise, it had none of the sweet tart tomato flavor that I expected. It tasted of mealy cardboard. I threw it away. I looked to the next two to save my salad, with great hope, as both had that un-uniform shape and heft and meaty feel that usually bespeaks a good tomato. I cut into the yellow one, and the texture was good. The flavor *was not.* Flat, with a minsculely detectible tartness -- like wet cardboard that had been wiped with a brief bit of tomato flavor. I chucked it.

On to the last one, which at this point was seeming very precious to me. I *wanted* tomato with my salad, but I was now very wary. When I cut into it, it was promising -- like the yellow, it had good weight, and good texture. I cut off a little slice before slicing it into my salad, and *it,* too, was sub-par. Not just sub-par, but worse than your regular run of the mill plum tomato imported from *wherever* would have been. Sadly to say, I chucked it too.

I ate my salad with only avocado and onion. And I asked myself, is my gourmet market’s display all a sham? Are these pretty heirloom tomatoes just another way to sell a product to a supposedly discerning consumer, when the outcome is no better than the other stuff? Or have I learned my lesson -- there is no way to fool mother nature, and once the season for tomatoes is over, it’s *over*, and there’s no way no how, no matter how attractively presented, labeled or packaged, that you are going to get a good supermarket tomato after September 30th. Earlier in the season, the heirloom tomatoes at Gelson’s had been pretty good, if not profound. I had such hope for them, though, and earlier in the season they satisfied, but did not thrill. Is it just my market (for you not from LA, Gelson’s is an upscale chain, that a while back bought out our local gourmet market, Mayfair, that used to have a decent presence in LA, but no longer. Since Gelson’s asserted its name over my local Mayfair, I’ve noticed a decline in the produce section -- variety is always good, but as to quality, they seem to value “pretty” over flavorful, while Mayfair was the opposite. Case in point: the avocados -- Mayfair was the one source where you *knew* you’d get a great, ripe or almost ripe avocado, and they were objects to behold: perfect, buttery, delicious. Since the transformation to Gelson’s, they still carry good quality avocados, but, I’ve noticed on more than one occasion, they “hold” the ripe ones by refrigerating them. So, when you go to the display, you find cold, wet avocados, which, yeah, are of the Hass variety, and are ripe, but never achieve that beautiful state of buttery, delectable richness of the avocados that Mayfair used to carry. Who was their supplier? I miss them.

Whew! Just had to vent. And warn. “Pretty is” does not always equal “pretty does,” no matter how tempting!

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