In Search of the Perfect Tomato

Description of story here

by: Lucy Apthorp Leske

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

In the classic movie “The Godfather,” Marlon Brando’s character Don Corleone totters through his vegetable garden among a grove of towering tomato plants. His violent lifestyle contrasts dramatically with the quaint tenderness with which he tends to his plants.

The plants, in turn, have responded to his care with their lush growth and ripe fruit. No actor or vegetable could more clearly illustrate the connection between devotion and result.

Tomatoes occupy a special place in the hearts of American gardeners. An icon of vegetable gardening, the tomato is grown by 93 percent of all gardeners who grow vegetables, according to one source. And why not? The tomato personifies summer. Painted a lush patriotic red, redolent of summer sunshine and warmth, sweet and tender, the tomato is at its best when picked directly from the vine and sliced open while still pulsing, the literal heart of the summer harvest table.

Most gardeners agree that the ultimate tomato experience is all about flavor, and that to get the best flavor you have to grow your own. Store-bought tomatoes, bred not for flavor but for ease of harvest, are picked from the vine weeks before ripening, shipped thousands of miles, dumped into grocery bins, and sprayed with hormones to turn red.

Hard as golf balls and as flavorful as cardboard, store-bought tomatoes are pale sheep next to lusty home-grown specimens. Some purists I know won’t eat tomatoes at all unless they’re home-grown, or at the very least, hand-picked from local farms at the peak of flavor.