Ever wonder how to take your enjoyment of food to a new level? The answer might be a major shift in your food lifestyle to embrace seasonal eating.
Until college, a tomato was a tomato to me. It certainly wasn’t a food I would ever want to bite into all by itself. You pick them up any ol’ time of year at the grocery store to add texture to sandwiches or burgers and they all taste the same, right? Wrong! There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes and a fresh local tomato is in a different ballpark from the flavorless produce stocked in grocery stores. Unless you have a food co-op or grocery store dedicated to stocking local produce, those tomatoes were likely shipped across the country or even farther when they were still green and then (get this!) sprayed with ethelyne gas so that they’ll turn red artificially! Because they’re being shipped so far and need to look attractive on grocery store shelves, the varieties you’ll find at the store are grown for their indestructibility (they can be shipped without getting bruised). However, the flavor and texture are seriously lacking! More importantly, there are serious human rights concerns with the tomato industry since the workers who pick the fruit are often exploited in terrible conditions.
I remember the first time I had a REAL tomato. We had a vegetable garden the year my son was born and grew tiny Sungold tomatoes. They ripened on the vine and I remember trying one from our first little harvest, still warm from the Texas sun. Oh my heavens! It was incredible! Flavor and sweetness exploding from that tiny little tomato! We’ve grown tomatoes ever since.
Now since we try to depend entirely on our own garden for tomatoes, we are forced to eat seasonally and I have never enjoyed food so much! At first it was hard to get used to because I wasn’t familiar with what produce was in season when (everything’s always in season at the grocery store!). Now from October to April, we don’t cook with fresh tomatoes because we can’t grow them. That’s a long time to wait! So the beginning of tomato season is a time for celebration at my house! We slice them up to eat with breakfast. We make salsa and tomato sauces. We go hog wild with tomatoes and our kids venture outside and eat them off the vine all summer long! They eat their weight in tomatoes and all their shirts are stained with tomato juice. It’s glorious.
The hard work of planting and caring for the seedlings, the anticipation while they grow and bear fruit, and the unbelievable flavor when they finally are ripe all make the experience something spectacular. After having the real thing, I can’t even choke down one of the dry, mealy tomatoes from the store. A sun-ripened tomato is worth waiting for. We started with tomatoes, but after a few years of gardening, eating seasonally has become second nature. And with the help of some seasonally organized cookbooks, cooking seasonally isn’t such a challenge anymore. Seasonal eating brings a whole new level of joy to cooking and food. And if you aren’t in a position to grow your own produce, you can find a local farmer’s market or food co-op to enjoy fresh, local food from nearby. If you want to enjoy the best tomato of your life, give seasonal eating a try!