Category Archives: Local foods

No more flavorless tomatoes

It’s tomato season and I should be happy about that, right? Certainly I am, but tomato season brings with it the disturbing reminder that most people don’t have a clue that tomatoes even have a season, a fact that was reinforced for me twice yesterday in a most ironic way.

First, I read this great piece about workers who pay the ultimate price for our insatiable desire for tomatoes and what one woman is doing to change that.  Then, I went to dinner last night at a nice restaurant that claims to use “the freshest possible local ingredients”, and while it served me grass-fed beef, it also served a firm, flavorless tomato that was barely pink -all the hallmarks of an industrially produced tomato-with a salad.  Why on earth, when tomatoes are everywhere right now, would a chef serve this abomination to local food?  Perhaps he chooses to cut that corner because he thinks that since most people are willing to eat that kind of tomato in winter, they’re willing to settle for it at any time of year.

How is this possible? Every summer I hear the same thing: people oohing and ahhing over fresh homegrown tomatoes and how wonderful they are and how much better they taste than tomatoes they eat in the winter.  You’d think people would get a clue and quit wasting their money on tomatoes in the winter.

I finally clued in a few years ago during my gastronomy course when our professor used the term “esculence”, which technically means suitable for eating, but her usage implied not only suitability, but perfection or a peak ripeness.  Learning that word was a game changer for me and I gradually quit buying fresh tomatoes during the winter.  And you know what? It was liberating, culinarily speaking, especially when it came to making salads.  In place of fresh tomatoes I used pears, dried cranberries, sweet mandarin slices, and-yes- even sundried tomatoes that were preserved when tomatoes were at their peak.  All of these fruits helped make the salads a wonderful change of pace from the run-of-the-mill garden salad with lettuce, tomato and cucumber that is ubiquitous because it requires so little thought.

But the best part about my wintertime tomato ban is looking forward to this time of year when we’re inundated with tomatoes of all different colors, shapes and flavors.  This summer, because Iwasn’t lulled into complacency by insipid winter tomatoes, I was one of the first people in line at the farmer’s market to buy the first homegrown tomatoes of the season.  I can honestly say I’ve savored every bite knowing that I’ll never eat a flavorless tomato again.

Roadtrip Redux: The beekeeper cometh

Last month, I wrote about my roadtrip to California which included a stop at a great Mexican restaurant in Winslow, AZ where I briefly met a beekeeper who sells his honey to the restaurant.

Well, it turns out the beekeeper, Roy Crain, has family in the same are of Missouri where I currently live.  Roy’s wife, Karen, found my blog while googling camelthorn honey and told me they were coming to Missouri and were bringing me some honey.  I was THRILLED– not only about the honey, but that she’d also  stumbled upon my blog.

I chatted with Roy on the phone a few times and we agreed to meet at a little diner in Conway, MO.   Roy, Karen and their daughter Jessie and I shared a lot of conversation, coffee and the biggest cinnamon rolls you’ve ever seen (more on that in another post). 

It turns out that Roy is a railroad man, and beekeeping is his hobby.  In fact, honeybees are in his blood, you could say.  His grandfather also kept bees and Roy took it up about 15 years ago.  He was one of the first people in Arizona– if not the first– to have his bees produce camelthorn honey by setting up hives in an area surrounded by the thorny, flowering shrubs which are considered a noxious weeds in Arizona and elsewhere.  But the bees apparently love the small, pink flowers and use it to wonderful effect to make a delicate, bright-flavored honey with a hint of spice that’s  incredibly different from the typical clover honey which has a heavier, more cloying sweetness.

Roy now runs anywhere from 50 to 100 hives around Arizona and makes several different kinds of honey including a Winslow Wildflower which is almost as dark as molasses and has a deeper, more complex taste than the camelthorn–Roy calls it burnt–  that tickles the back of my throat.

As sweet and good as Roy’s honey is, it’s even sweeter that this blog and a shared interest in food could allow us to cross paths again.  It’s further proof of my belief that people who appreciate and produce good, honest food are usually good people.

If you ever find yourself in Winslow, Arizona– sure go by and see the famous corner– but also make it a point to look up Roy and try some of his honey.

Painted Desert Honey Co.