Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Sarah Baird is a writer, editor, and petit four aficionado living in New Orleans, Louisiana, whose book on the culture of Kentucky sweets will be published in January 2014. Follow her on Twitter @scbaird.
Song: “Homegrown Tomatoes”
Without fail, every garden has a super-powered plant that grows just a little too well. One day, the ground is dappled with a sprinkling of tiny white flowers and vines, then almost overnight the garden bed has erupted into an avalanche of cucumbers or squash. No matter how much you might love a Benedictine tea sandwich or a hearty slice of zucchini bread, there’s only so much gourd one person can eat before it becomes, well, a little monotonous. Pretty soon, neighbors are crossing the street to avoid your “generous” offers of produce and the thought of setting up a tiny roadside squash stand starts to make a lot of sense.
The only exception to this rule? The almighty tomato. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who could ever tire of letting its juices dribble down his or her chin. In Guy Clark’s 1983 song “Homegrown Tomatoes,” the country music legend pays homage to this ruby red giant of summertime dining, exploring his deep admiration for the fruit with a twinkle in his eye and chuckle in his verses.
Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Today's contributor, Virginia Willis, is the author of cookbooks "Bon Appétit, Y’all" and "Basic to Brilliant, Y’all." She is a contributing editor to Southern Living and a frequent contributor to Taste of the South. She also wrote Eatocracy's most-commented post of all time.
In this series for the Southern Foodways Alliance, I am examining iconic Southern foods that so completely belong to summer that if you haven’t relished them before Labor Day, you should consider yourself deprived of the entire season. My plan is to share a little history and a few recipes that I hope you will enjoy.
Fresh tomatoes are only ever good in summer. There is nothing as wonderful as the full, rich, almost wine-like flavor of a vine ripe tomato—just as there is nothing as disappointing as the dull, insipid, lifeless flavor of a cold storage tomato shipped from halfway around the world. I don’t eat those and strongly suggest that you don’t, either. So, when it’s tomato season, I heartily endorse eating those glorious ripe ones as often as possible.
Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from many different areas of scientific exploration. This is the fourth installment.
Ever wondered why some tomatoes taste great, and many others don’t?
Professor Harry Klee, a horticulturalist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, is on a mission to improve the taste and quality of supermarket tomatoes. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 for his efforts.
Klee presented his research in Boston recently at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. CNN Light Years spoke with Klee before the conference.
Read the full interview here: Science Seat: In search of the perfect tomato
Vegetarians are (mostly) not here just to ruin your good time. Really. I swear. I was one, myself for seven years and all I wanted at a cookout was to hang out with my friends, and not have to worry that the omnivores would gobble up all the meat-free sides before I got to the table.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to celebrate the bounty of the season and make sure all my guests leave full and satisfied - no matter how they choose to chow down.
Ashley Strickland is an associate producer with CNN.com. She likes twisting her own soft pretzels, perfecting pineapple upside down cake, tackling English toffee, sharing people-pleasin' pizza dip, sunflower cheesecakes and green soup and cajoling recipes from athletes.
Each year, I can tell by the languor of the tomato vines in our backyard that it’s time. They recline like some exhausted 1940s Hollywood starlet, even though we’ve already relieved them of their burden.
The kitchen countertops become laden with fiery red, homegrown tomatoes. Garlic, onions and bell peppers appear in the kitchen in bulk, while fresh herbs disappear from the garden and local grocery store and take up pungent residence in the refrigerator.
Add a quartet of the largest stock pots to the stovetop, and the ritual has begun. It’s time to capture the last sunset of summer in a jar.
For a response from the industry, read Why tomatoes grow in Florida
In the sultry summer heat, there are few flavors more welcome than that of a burstingly fresh, sloppy, sweet, tangy, locally grown tomato. In the winter, though, their grocery store equivalent is barely recognizable as the same fruit. They're hard, uniformly round and almost inevitably taste-free.
They're also mostly trucked in from Florida, where they're grown in some challenging agricultural conditions, and where the industry has come under scrutiny for their labor practices.
Barry Estabrook, author of 'Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit' spoke with Eatocracy about this came to be.
Eatocracy: How did you become invested in telling the story of the modern day tomato?
Estabrook: I became interested in tomatoes when I was in fact attacked by a group of tomatoes. I was driving down an interstate highway in Southwestern Florida and come up behind what I thought at first was a gravel truck. As I got closer, I saw what I took for Granny Smith apples - and I thought, "Those don't grow in Florida." When I got really close, I saw it was full of bright green tomatoes. No pink - just green.
I was mesmerized, and then the truck hit a bump. Three tomatoes came flying off and nearly went through my windshield. I noticed that they hit the pavement on I-75, bounced and then rolled into the ditch.
They didn't shatter, they didn't splatter; they stayed intact. I thought, "My God! What have they done to this wonderful fruit?"
Author Barry Estabrook's book 'Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit' addresses some concerns over the conditions in which modern day tomatoes are harvested, and takes direct aim at the quality of the Florida-produced product.
We spoke with the Florida Tomato Committee's manager Reggie Brown to get his side of this complex story.
Eatocracy: In his book 'Tomatoland,' Barry Estabrook describes climate conditions in Florida that don’t seem to be conducive to growing tomatoes. What went into the decision to grow tomatoes in Florida?
Reggie Brown: We grow tomatoes in Florida because it is a viable business. Florida is the only place in the continental United States where we can produce tomatoes for many months of the year, and because of the fact that we like producing tomatoes and providing American jobs for Americans in America.
Just when you think you know someone. During a car trip with my husband last weekend, I discovered that the man I have shared my heart, my life and my soul with for over six and a half years had never in his life eaten a BLT sandwich.
How a man gets to his mid-40s without ever having partaken in this American staple, I just couldn't quite wrap my head around. I asked him to repeat what he'd just said, and then I quizzed him. "You're an alien, right? Maybe a spy of some sort sent to infiltrate CNN? By law, you have to tell me - I think."