tomato, tomahto
December 11, 2004 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Tomatoes! They are delicious, or at least they used to be. First came ethylene ripening and monoculture which turned them into tasteless red baseballs, and taste was't the only problem. Then came this year's hurricanes which decimated the crops, driving prices up. And now, just when you think you've found a really tasty variant on the market with the wonderfully appropriate name of UglyRipe, the state growers board goes and bans them for being too ugly. If you agree that this sucks go and tell the guys in charge.

Man, that little red fruit sure does seem to cause a lot of trouble. Maybe we should try to smash them all.
posted by allan (51 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking of smashing tomatoes, see the La Tomatina Valencia Tomato Festival in Spain.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:20 PM on December 11, 2004

I had thought the Colonel Johnson eating-tomatoes-to-prove-they-weren't-poisonous story was a myth, but I can't seem to find anything denying that it could have happened. Can anyone confirm my skepticism?

Oh, and a note of caution - "I have no tomatoes" is extremely addictive.
posted by allan at 2:21 PM on December 11, 2004

My current favorite tomato-centric recipe:

Tomato Basil Mahi Mahi
Serves 2 - 4

16 oz Mahi Mahi fillets
2 1/2 cups tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/3 cup red shallots, sliced
1/4 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup garlic, chopped (approx. 5 cloves)
2/3 cup chicken stock
2 Tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs fish sauce (I prefer soy sauce)
1 Tbs rice vinegar or lemon juice
1 Tbs sugar

Coat pan with sesame oil and pan fry Mahi Mahi fillets until golden brown.

Prepare sauce, sauté garlic and shallots in another pan at the same time. Add the onion, tomato paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar or lemon juice and sugar.

Stir in chicken stock (optional, for my taste buds) and simmer until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and add chopped basil.

Dollop Mahi Mahi fillets with generous helping of tomato basil sauce, add leaves of basil to garnish, and serve with a nice white wine and salad.

You can substitute any mild white fish instead of Mahi. Any canned tomatoes will do. Whole Foods sells a nice big 22 oz can, the right size for this dish. Use fresh basil if you can.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:25 PM on December 11, 2004

Funny...I am making a tomato stew (totally home made recipe) with diced pork, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, diced sweet pepper and onion, minced cayenne peppers, worsterschire sauce and three large cans of diced tomatoes...have made this thing for nearly two's great over egg noodles, and even better over scrambled eggs for breakfast the follwoing morning.
posted by 1016 at 2:28 PM on December 11, 2004

There's a restaurant near me in a town famous for tomatoes and confiseries (candied fruits) which has a tomato menu. Tomatoes in the entrée, then the main dish... my grandma carried off some of our meal to the restrooms and disposed of it surreptitiously. Finally, we watched as a German child at the next table over took a big spoonful of his ice-cream: Nicht gut! he cried. We knew we were in for a long dessert course.

(I love tomatoes, though they're from the belladonna family and hurt my stomach sometimes.)
posted by faux ami at 2:33 PM on December 11, 2004

My god, what i wouldn't give for a totally ripe, tasty, non-GMO sun-ripened garden tomato right now. Oh. My. God., how I miss them.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:40 PM on December 11, 2004

In August, still warm from the garden, thinly sliced on toasted rye with Miracle Whip.
posted by sourwookie at 2:50 PM on December 11, 2004

...Growers complain that Procacci's UglyRipes could wreck the reputation of Florida tomatoes. To allow misshapen and blemished tomatoes could open the way for a flood of ugly tomatoes to hit the market, says Reggie Brown, the tomato committee's manager....
Florida is worried about its tomato reputation? The attack of ugly tomatoes?
And they say stereotypes are bad...
posted by c13 at 2:52 PM on December 11, 2004

I can't stand tomatoes anymore - I thought I was the only one. There must be support groups for this...

And, wow, who cares what it looks like? Not every item in the supermarket has to look exactly the same, does it?

Quoth Joni Mitchell, "Give me spots on my apples"
posted by deliquescent at 2:53 PM on December 11, 2004

Ugly tomatos rock! But they are ugly. Here is a site that has organized a protest.
posted by blahblahblah at 2:55 PM on December 11, 2004

I don't think they are ugly at all, just looks like any number of heirloom toms we see at the farmers market.
posted by zeoslap at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2004

Heirlooms are great, but I can't get them in the winter in boston. There are a few advantages of commercial farming operations. They just have perverse incentives that give us bad produce.

From what I can make out, Florida set out to market their state's tomatoes as the pretty tomatoes, perhaps to differentiate them from the California's or imports. Personally, that sounds kind of silly. I just want good stuff to eat, and the Florida Tomato board is getting a curt email.

On preview: is it snarky for me to remind blahblah that he or she posted a link from the FPP? Or my fault for having too many cryptic links? /noob
posted by allan at 3:11 PM on December 11, 2004

Has anyone ever eaten those purple heirloom tomatoes? I bought some at the farmers market this year for an outrageous price out of curiosity. And they tasted weird - I guess they're just overripe. Who buys them and what recipes do you use them for? I'm really curious.
posted by sophie at 3:13 PM on December 11, 2004

[this is good]

There was a question in AskMe recently about why you should buy local, and tomatoes are a perfect example, for the reasons these links point out. They're not naturally durable, so they've been engineered to be able to handle the shipping journey from farther and farther destinations to your grocery, at the expense of flavor and juiciness. Worse, they're often picked prematurely so that they "ripen" (much less effectively) en route. In the last 10-15 years, good, flavorful tomatoes have all but disappeared. Thankfully, I live near a co-op that gets fresh, local, organic tomatoes.
posted by mkultra at 3:14 PM on December 11, 2004

zeoslap: "I don't think they are ugly at all, just looks like any number of heirloom toms we see at the farmers market."

Amen to that. I make (if I may say so) a marvelous bruschetta with tomatoes my wife gets from the farmers markets in the area. As mkultra says, not durable, but incredibly tasty.

Have used them to make a very lovely tomato/habanero hot pepper jelly.
posted by 1016 at 3:21 PM on December 11, 2004

Grow your own, man. Grow your own.

It's the only way.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:21 PM on December 11, 2004

mr_crash_davis, we've done it, but to not great effect. Much more successful with the hot peppers, oddly enough (live in Northern Virginia, DC-area), which are incredibly prolific. The cherry tomatoes grew alright, but the romas, etc., not so much. Dunno why, but we have the farmers markets, which make a big difference.

And an incredible array of Asian markets, not to threadjack or anything, but I'm just sayin'...
posted by 1016 at 3:26 PM on December 11, 2004

i'm with an SF vaudeville show, and we use the tasteless red baseballs as fodder for the bad acts.
posted by zombiejesus at 3:28 PM on December 11, 2004

Florida's tomato industry has a lot more to be worried about than ugly tomatoes: Tomato Pickers' Taco Bell Boycott
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 3:29 PM on December 11, 2004

Not nearly as weird as the blue potatoes my cousins served this Thanksgiving. Thanks for the post; I do enjoy a tasty tasty tomato.
posted by fatllama at 3:57 PM on December 11, 2004

I'd like to see some of these/try them.

I used to grow a lot of vegatables and fruit when I had five acres to play with. Now I have much less space and considerably poorer and rockier soil... on a slope. I still intend to do some serious leveling and work on the soil so I can have at least a fairly large garden again. My family used to raise tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, raspberries, blackberries, squash, cucumbers, canteloupes, watermelons, pumpkins, okra, rhubarb, asparagus, potatoes, radishes, and some other stuff. The real moneymakers were the tomatoes, raspberries, and the blackberries.

Some years we had as many as 25 different types of tomatoes. All organic. All vine-ripened. We had customers that came to our house in the summer from sixty miles away. I miss that.

On preview, I like the flavor of blue potatoes, but I found them to be very small in size the two years that I grew them. OTOH, purple asparagus seems to do extremely well and has a very nutty flavor. Great stuff. Beautiful plants as well.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 4:29 PM on December 11, 2004

Alan. Yep, its snarky -- I did click over 50% of the links, give a break to a fellow tomato supporter!
posted by blahblahblah at 4:42 PM on December 11, 2004

Good post. But with all due apology to tomato supporters, I'm shocked to find that no one has mentioned that tomatoes are a serious threat.
posted by Scooter at 4:47 PM on December 11, 2004

"If you allowed the producers of UglyRipe to ship any quality of tomato, then how could you justify not allowing any quality tomato into the market place?" he asks. The rules governing Florida's $500 million-a-year industry, which dominates the fresh tomato market in the USA and annually sends 1.45 billion pounds of tomatoes north, have been in place for decades

This marketing board business has always struck me as being very un-American. In a capitalist society shouldn't anybody (who has passed health standards) be allowed to grow and sell their product to anybody else. (Outside of international considerations, of course.)

The Supreme Court is considering the Beef ad campaign right now which forces cattlemen to pay a $1.00 per each head sold in order to pay for generic beef ads (The ones that say "Beef. It's whats for dinner.") Some cattlemen think they should be able to opt out of this. THey think the meatpackers and the retailers should be the ones paying for the ads.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:04 PM on December 11, 2004

Teh new hotness: Thick, salted slices of UglyRipe tomato on buttered crusty, white country sourdough bread.
Old and busted: All other tomatoes

I have been buying UglyRipes in my local Giant supermarket (DC/No. Va) ever since I first saw them there, and ours seem to come from New Jersey, but I still sent the FTC a nastygram - I'd like to have a second source for them!

Oh, and I never put my whole UglyRipes in the fridge - they really do just never taste the same again. According to Alton Brown, "when tomatoes drop below 50 degrees a flavor compound called (Z)-3-dexenal is just going to flip itself off like a chemical switch ... permanently". He does not lie.
I'll wrap and refrigerate the cut half of an UglyRipe (when I don't just devour the whole thing on the spot) because even after refrigeration it still beats most other tomatoes hands down on taste, but when they're unrefrigerated? Oh man ...
posted by kcds at 6:11 PM on December 11, 2004

I grew Roma tomatoes on a fire escape in Brookline, Mass once. The plants got ugly and leggy, but the fruit - oh baby.

Alex, it's obvious where they go, but I find it amusing that your recipe doesn't actually mention using the tomatoes.

On preview: NEVER refrigerate tomatoes. Or strawberries.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:14 PM on December 11, 2004

Ohhh for the love of Tomatoes...
posted by Oyéah at 6:31 PM on December 11, 2004

Alex, it's obvious where they go, but I find it amusing that your recipe doesn't actually mention using the tomatoes.

I didn't want to overload this juicy thread with even more tomatoes. Yeah, that's it.
posted by AlexReynolds at 6:36 PM on December 11, 2004

Look like brandywine's. I do not understand why they are 'ugly'.

Guess I have a different view on what is 'ugly'
posted by rough ashlar at 7:06 PM on December 11, 2004

still thinking blue/ugly/tasty/whatever tomatos is exotic thing?
then smoke this.
posted by denpo at 8:17 PM on December 11, 2004

Once again, I offer my suggestion that we build that 50 containment wall along the southern border of Georgia.
posted by RavinDave at 8:36 PM on December 11, 2004

kcds: your first comment literally made my mouth start to water.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:44 PM on December 11, 2004

I love a good Jamón con pan tomaca!

The head guy in my office used to bring in homegrown tomatoes every day for weeks before he retired. They were ugly as sin but tasted like a slice of heaven.
posted by shoepal at 9:02 PM on December 11, 2004

"If you allowed the producers of UglyRipe to ship any quality of tomato, then how could you justify not allowing any quality tomato into the market place?" he asks.

That's the problem right there. The quality of a tomato should not be in how it looks, it should be how it tastes. Consumers are perfectly capable of deciding what kind of produce to buy. Regulations should only cover health and safety issues, not appearance.
posted by mstefan at 10:36 PM on December 11, 2004

Ugly tomatos rock! But they are ugly.

It's hard to explain, but that photo just caused an incredibly... sensuous... reaction in me. I mean, look at that smoky hue! Those prodigious curves! If I saw that tomato in the "pretty baseball" section of my grocery store, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. It really is beautiful.

Ahem... for a tomato, that is.
posted by Ironwolf at 11:11 PM on December 11, 2004

This marketing board business has always struck me as being very un-American. In a capitalist society shouldn't anybody (who has passed health standards) be allowed to grow and sell their product to anybody else?

Well, I guess that UglyRipes aren't legally banned, just that the Florida Board takes care of the distribution and marketing of Florida tomatoes but won't do it for this grower as his tomatoes don't fulfill their "quality" standards. Having a relatively small production, UglyRipe can't afford on its own the transport, distribution and marketing means to bring them to wholesale markets and large retailers all over the North. The Florida Board's problem with UglyRipes is that it bases its economies on scale on marketing the homogeneous product that large retailers demand from it. Diverting resources to market a completely different product coming from just one grower is something the other growers will never agree to.

There has long been a related argument here in the EU. The British anti-EU tabloids like to ridicule the European Commission by writing that it wants to ban curved cucumbers and straight bananas. The Commission has always mortifiedly replied that it only sets voluntary quality standards on size form and appearance of agricultural produce, after lengthy consultation with growers, distributors and retailers, so that, when one retailer orders 20 tons of Quality I cucumbers, he knows what he is going to get. Curved cucumbers don't sell so well, and fruits and vegetables have, as we know, only a limited shelf life. But the result is, if you as a farmer grow extremely tasty produce that does however not comply with those "quality" standards, you'll have a lot of trouble getting rid of it.

So, distributors like the Florida Board buy only pretty but tasteless tomatoes because that is what retailers want. And retailers want pretty but tasteless tomatoes because that's what consumers buy. So, it's capitalism after all. Don't blame the Florida Board but the consumers that prefer shiny red tomatoes to actually tasty ones.
posted by Skeptic at 3:45 AM on December 12, 2004

Indoor hydroponics works just as well for tomatoes as it does for any other kind of Green Vegetable Matter (tm).

My personal favourite for compact indoor growth consists of a big plywood box, 1m x 1m x 2m tall (or if you're really cheapass you can use the huge corrugated cardboard box that refrigerators get shipped in). Engineer doors into a couple of the walls. Paint it flat white inside, fit a small bathroom-style exhaust fan in the top, and hang a 400 watt Son-T-Agro sodium vapor lamp and reflector assembly inside on a chain arrangement that lets you adjust the lamp height. Use a timer for the lamp (16 hours a day is good for tomatoes); run the fan 24/7.

Get a couple of stacking plastic storage crates from the supermarket (black is best), drill drain holes in the top one and put in expanded clay balls or scoria (about 150mm deep is OK). Put a layer of aluminium foil over the scoria (this stops light getting into the root zone and promoting algae growth) and poke four holes in it for planting sites. Put a small submersible fountain pump in the bottom one and run tubes into the top one near your planting sites. Run this pump 24/7 as well.

Use just about any complete fertilizer to make up a nutrient solution (not too strong; 1200 parts per million total dissolved solids is about right). Drain and replace the nutrient solution every couple of weeks.

Keep the light about 400mm above the top crate, or 200mm above the plant tops, whichever is higher.

You will be utterly amazed how fast one of these things can grow stuff.

If you're in Florida, make sure you lightproof it properly (making a flat-black-lined duct with many bends for the exhaust fan helps) and be careful where you pipe your exhaust air (tomato plants have a strong and distinctive smell). You don't want the Committee smashing your doors in at 4AM.
posted by flabdablet at 4:18 AM on December 12, 2004

Oh yeah. Put vents in the sides of the box at assorted heights, too, so that as the exhaust fan sucks air out the top it makes a turbulent breeze inside the box to keep all the leaves moving. This promotes strong and healthy stems. Florida residents will need many-bends black-lined vent covers over those, too.
posted by flabdablet at 4:27 AM on December 12, 2004

Why do I hate America so much?™

Because of shit like this. Maybe we were born with tastebuds to perpetuate the species but preparing food for our survival, like all of our endeavors, has been raised to a higher plane. It should taste good, dammit! Round? Who gives a shit?! (Since when is our sense of aesthetics resticted only to our eyes? Even then, I can see that the typical supermarket tomato is not going to taste good.

allan: there are two time tested solutions to your problem. 1. Eat winter vegetables. 2. Eat preserved tomatoes.

When I go into a "better" restaurant anytime outside of summer and see a "fresh" tomato on a plate, I really have to wonder what the hell they are thinking.
posted by Dick Paris at 5:06 AM on December 12, 2004

Why don't they call it an anti-tomato and be done with it?
posted by jmccorm at 6:28 AM on December 12, 2004

allan: Maybe if you didn't try to cram as many links as possible into your posts, people would be more likely to click them all. I like tomatoes and I was intrigued by the UglyRipe story, but I only clicked on about half your links. I don't know where this idea got started that posts with only one link were terrible and the more links there were, the better the post, but I wish it would go away.

Not knocking the post, which is good (apart from the excess), just standing up for blahblahblah. Hands up, everyone who looked at every single link... yeah, I thought as much.
posted by languagehat at 6:36 AM on December 12, 2004

$1.99 a pound? If we were so lucky...

Right now, attempting to buy Roma tomatoes will cost you nearly $4.00 a pound here (Seattle area.)
posted by FormlessOne at 7:40 AM on December 12, 2004

Someone pleasepleaseplease offer me a job that will get me out of this state. (Especially before RavinDave builds that wall.) Cannot survive now knowing that good commercial tomatoes are available elsewhere while vanity dictates that Florida is limited to tasteless red blergh (at $3 a pound, wtf!).

The local Wendy's (hey, what's the correct plural for that?) have instituted a rule where you now have to ask to get tomatoes on a sandwich. If that's the sort of tomatoes there's a shortage of, can't say I care.
posted by casarkos at 8:05 AM on December 12, 2004

I remember the taste of tomatoes, 50 years ago, ripped off the vine hot, from the sun, and eaten on the back porch, with a salt shaker and the knees apart to allow the drips to fall on the ground. The taste was nothing like the gas-reddened doorknobs in the grocery store, and I feel sorry for anyone who missed the experience. Recipe: Knock the big hunks of dirt off with hand. (Dirt was safer back then, and considered good for your immune system, which turned out to be true.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 8:49 AM on December 12, 2004

Skeptic, that's an interesting comparison to EU agricultural policy.

Well, I guess that UglyRipes aren't legally banned, just that the Florida Board takes care of the distribution and marketing of Florida tomatoes but won't do it for this grower as his tomatoes don't fulfill their "quality" standards.

Actually, I believe that in the US, the UglyRipes are banned for interstate sale, because the marketing orders are compulsory, not voluntary under the Agricultural Marketing Agreements Act. But the AMAA was depression-era legislation intended to protect consumers from price increases, not to keep innovative new products off the national market. So maybe out-of-state tomato lovers can sue for violation of their Commerce Clause rights?
posted by insideout at 10:51 AM on December 12, 2004

Man, that little red fruit sure does seem to cause a lot of trouble.

It's true!

Also, I've always disliked tomatoes. Maybe I should try a real one someday.
posted by squidlarkin at 11:13 AM on December 12, 2004

Er... don't y'all have access to tomatos ripened on-the-vine? Cost a bit more, but they do taste better. Hothouse grown, allowed to ripen fully, and not picked off the vine, but rather a vine with a half-dozen or so tomatos is cut and packed in stiff cello.

Gardenwise, we've grown Sweet 100/Sweet Million/Sugar Snack/etc cherry/patio tomatos for years, on our balconey. Sugar Snack are by far the best, most prolific, utterly outrageously good tomatos ev-ah.

But I'll be buying some Ugly seeds and giving them a shot! (Can we buy the seeds, or has the breeder kept them for himself?)
posted by five fresh fish at 12:50 PM on December 12, 2004

insideout: that's interesting to know. I knew that some still-extant Depression and WWII era US economic legislation is surprisingly far more interventionist than anything that would be tolerated over here, but that one is really shocking. I guess that some people are really comfortable in those boards, right?
posted by Skeptic at 1:37 PM on December 12, 2004

Don't blame the Florida Board but the consumers that prefer shiny red tomatoes to actually tasty ones.

It's because consumers have been eating flavorless tomatoes designed to ship well for so long they wouldn't know what a tomato is supposed to look and taste like.

These ugly ones look good. They remind me of one of the heirloom varieties my grandfather used to grow ... which are the tomatoes I judge all tomatoes by. Next year I am growing my own, an option I finally have now that I live in a house, and I will never again pay too much money for a pale imitation of a real tomato.
posted by Orb at 1:40 PM on December 12, 2004

I don't like the idea of my produce bearing a Brand Name. I prefer my tomatoes to be organic, heirloom, and to come without a price tag on them
posted by f5seth at 1:17 PM on December 13, 2004

Tangent--I went looking for ANY ketchup without high fructose corn syrup, and finally found one from some obscure outfit: Heinz. I was surprised by the richness of the color. Tastes yummy, too.
posted by NortonDC at 8:53 PM on December 13, 2004

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