Hot tomatoes: Old varieties make comeback

When I was growing up 30 years ago in the wilds of Northern Virginia, homegrown tomatoes were a metaphor for summer. Effortless broadcasting of seeds brought forth a green tangle of fruit. Thick, succulent orbs of juicy red flesh fell from the plants with only the slightest nudge. Tomato slices slapped between two mayonnaise-soaked slabs of white bread sufficed for lunch and dinner. Along with corn and strawberries, we children we did not hunger for much else.
In the years since— like almost everyone else— I’ve found tomatoes from the grocery stores to be hard, green, and unpalatable. Tomatoes have fallen from grace like they used to fall from the vines.
Luckily, there has also been a movement to restore tomatoes to their original grandeur. Heirloom tomatoes, so named because seeds were passed down through the generations, have made a comeback.
Heirloom vegetables are the real thing– no genetic altering. Consider that tomatoes found on your grocery shelf are bred for traits that favor growers over consumers: for example, tomatoes that ripen all at once and can be harvested at the same time and tomatoes with thicker skins that are less likely to bruise. Some scientists are even trying to develop square-shaped tomatoes to permit a few more to fit into each box. Taste is rarely a factor.
Maggie Thompson of Monticello would like to celebrate this newfound enthusiasm for tomato taste at a participatory workshop on Saturday, August 10. Tomatoes are finally being esteemed for their flavor, and one can only marvel at the genetic diversity found in heirloom varieties. At the workshop there will be samples available for gardeners to pick and choose their favorites.
Although there are thousands now available for home growing, some of the names defy understanding: what’s with Mule Team, Nebraska Wedding, and Mortgage Lifter? Thompson encourages you to bring in your own garden varieties and to discuss the pleasures and principles of tomato growing.
So perhaps again tomatoes can feel, smell, and taste like they should, their firm flesh gently yielding to meaty insides and their earthy, musky perfume redolent of the soil it sprang from.

Meet at the Garden Shop at Monticello Saturday, August 10, at 9.30am $10. Route 53. For more information and registration, call 984-9822

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