Last year was a miserable year for gardeners and produce lovers. Everything dried up and died, dashing our hopes for juicy BLTs, sweet cucumber salads and fried zucchini blossoms. I’m a pathetic gardener and notorious killer of plants, but even master gardeners watched their efforts shrivel up and waste away in the brutal heat.
Even though it is beastly hot right now in Kansas, we were fortunate to have a nice rainy spring and that has yielded a fabulous crop of early summer vegetables. Some things are even coming in earlier than usual, so we do a happy dance of joy, for tomatoes are one of those early crops. Tomatoes are truly one of the few reasons to live here in the summer.
I love heirloom varieties, with evocative names like Black Krim, Green Zebra, Lollipop and Brandywine. Heirlooms are old types grown for flavor or a particular use, not necessarily for red spherical conformity or shelf life. Cherokee Purples are bulging, purply green, irregularly shaped fruits with a wonderful sweet-acid balance and rich fruity flavor. When you eat a ripe Cherokee Purple, you are powerfully reminded that a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable. A slice of an heirloom on your hamburger is heaven, and a far cry from the slice of wet, pink sponge we get the rest of the year.
My favorite tomato recipe is this: Chop up one or two large ripe tomatoes for each person. Mince a little fresh garlic, tear up a handful of fresh basil, and put that all in a big bowl with a glug of fragrant olive oil and some salt and pepper. Take a big wedge of Brie cheese and tear that into chunks and add to the mess. Cook a quarter pound of spaghetti for each person, drain it, and add the hot pasta to the tomatoes. Toss until the cheese melts a little. Eat with voluptuous abandon.