Nobody doubts that the best tomatoes — some say the only tomatoes worth eating — come from your own backyard at the end of the summer, when they hang like water balloons from the vine, a torrent of juice ready to burst forth at the slightest touch. Those lucky enough to make it to one of the local farmers’ markets might find heirloom tomatoes that come pretty close to this ideal. I’m all for that; I’m into the whole support-your-local-farmers, eat-only-seasonal-produce thing. But when a BLT craving happens to strike in the dead of winter, these noble thoughts get gently pushed aside. Without the benefits of a hydroponic hot box (or even decent central heating) in my apartment, I’ve had no choice, up until now, but to make do with “vine-ripe” offerings at the local supermarket, which balance out their intense ruby-red color with intensely dull flavor.
But wait a minute — isn’t it like summer in Florida year-round? How come I can’t get a good tomato from down there? Well, the Santa Sweet tomato company thought the same thing. Most of the tomatoes coming out of Florida are bred with two things in mind: a perfectly spherical, ruby-red appearance, and the ability to withstand long shipping distances. Santa Sweet’s UglyRipe tomatoes, on the other hand, have been bred purely for flavor (so much so that until a recent court victory, UglyRipes were banned for export by the Florida Tomato Commission, on the grounds that they didn’t meet the FTC’s appearance standards). As a result, they come individually wrapped in foam netting, to protect the warty, bumpy, and decidedly delicate fruit from the rigors of travel.
As for eating an UglyRipe, it’s like watching a rollercoaster in IMAX 3-D. Not quite as good as the real thing, but they’re the fix we damn-the-weather tomatophiles have been seeking.
Available at Stop & Shop, various locations.
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