New heirloom tomato tome
Amy Goldman’s gorgeously photographed ode to heirloom tomatoes arrived
late this summer with all the jaw-dropping beauty of a coffee table
September 22, 2008, New York, NY – Amy Goldman’s gorgeously photographed ode to heirloom tomatoes arrived late this summer with all the jaw-dropping beauty of a coffee table tome.
But like her previous volumes on disappearing varieties of melons and squash, “The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table” carries a frightening message.
Goldman, a self-described “vegetable activist,” has written an impassioned call to growers to reclaim the odd, eccentric and delicious tomato plants whose very existence has been threatened.
“Heirloom tomatoes are designed to be homegrown,” she said recently from her Rhinebeck, N.Y., farm, where she was taking a break from harvesting a tomato crop delayed for a few weeks by this summer’s unusually abundant rainfall. “These are the people's tomato – of, by and for the people.”
This marks Goldman’s third book about heirloom vegetables, which are varieties whose seeds have been handed down from generation to generation of farmer.
Part One of “The Heirloom Tomato” is an argument that something terrible has been lost as the U.S. and other nations have moved to mass production of hybrid crops bred for uniformity, resistance to disease, and the ability to withstand mechanical harvesting and transcontinental shipping.
Part Two of the book is a guide to the actual growing of heirloom tomatoes, the result of five years of Goldman’s laborious experiments with more than 1,000 varieties of tomato plants on her estate in New York’s Hudson Valley.
She describes each of the 200 specimens pictured in the book (with lush photographs supplied by Victor Schrager) by size, weight, shape, colour, sweetness, flavour, texture, leaf type and recommended usage – is it best for salad, spaghetti sauce or a Bloody Mary?
Each variety has been exhaustively researched, yielding wonderful anecdotes about such people as folksy farmer and tomato seed developer Benjamin Franklin Quisenberry, namesake of the Big Ben beefsteak tomato. "Slices of Big Ben do wonderful things for a nice, fat, juicy hamburger," Goldman remarks in the "best use" category.
One of the joys of perusing this volume is seeing the breathtaking variety and downright weirdness of nature.
The Speckled Roman tomato, for instance, looks like a little rocket, except it's cherry red with carrot stripes. The Orange Strawberry resembles – you guessed it – a strawberry, or, as Goldman puts it, "a dancer en pointe."
Then there's the blood-red variety known as Goldman's Italian American, shaped like a fig – but much fatter at the bottom – and weighing up to a pound. Goldman obtained the seeds from a tomato plant growing by the side of a road in Italy and named it for her father's grocery in Brooklyn.
For Goldman, there is a story in every variety, spotlighting the efforts of farmers over thousands of years to grow varieties uniquely suited to local soil conditions and climate.
And even though heirloom tomatoes can be pricier than supermarket produce and are currently the rage among foodies and trendy chefs, she firmly rejects the idea that there is anything elitist or faddish about them.
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