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Commercial Tomatoes

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Yesterday a client gave me a small bag of nice looking Early Girl tomatoes. I was hesitant to use them because they were regular supermarket, commercial tomatoes, but when I couldn't give them away I decided to add them to some sauce I was going to make.

This morning I started the sauce, and boiled the gift tomatoes and removed their skin. Shoot! I should have stopped there. The flesh looked a little yellowish, maybe with a tint of orange, unlike any tomatoes I've seen in years. So, I removed the seeds, diced the fruit, and then gave 'em a taste. OH My Gawd. They had no discernable tomato taste. I've heard that commercial tomatoes are pretty bad, but I couldn't believe just how lacking in flavor and mealy the texture of these tomatoes were. They were worse by far than the out-of-season imported organic tomatoes some of the organic markets carry, and, of course, nothing like a fresh, ripe, local tomato.

I tossed the entire bag into the trash - they were inedible, yet they looked so beautiful - nice and plump and and a rich red color. Well, they've at least cured me of ever buying a commercial tomato again.

Is this what America eats .... ?

shel
post #2 of 22
That's exactly how I would describe todays grocery store tomato. This is also exactly why I don't buy fresh tomatoes from grocery stores.


I'm really not big on any canned product, but if I must make a salsa in winter I will used a decent canned variety rather than the tasteless red Styrofoam balls that are sold in the stores.

I would much rather give precedence to taste over appearance. Give me an out of round partly discolored glorious tasting tomato any day over a perfectly round ruby red tasteless piece of Styrofoam.



:mad: dan
post #3 of 22
many "commercial" fresh tomatoes are harvested greener than The Hulk on his worst day.

there are a few varieties in the trade that have been especially bred/developed to be "sorta' red" but still withstand all or some portions of mechanical handling/picking/shipping.

Early Girl is not amongst them.

note that the breeding of such varieties does NOT include any consideration of 'taste.'

they put them in a refrigerated truck - which kills (had the tomato a taste prior) any taste

then
gas them with ethylene to make them turn red enroute to your doorstep.

if would probably be cheaper to spray paint the green tomatoes with high octane lead red paint, but the FDA objects.
post #4 of 22
Yes, this is what America eats. Food that is developed to look pretty, be uniform in size, cost effective to produce and ship easily.

I got into an interesting discussion with a friend who is a fellow foodie. She was married to a chef for many years and they owned and operated their own restaurant. This woman knows really good food and most of her friends (me included) are either hard core foodies or food professionals.

When I made the statement that most people don’t cook, let alone cook well, and don’t really know what real fruits and vegetables (and even fresh meat) aught to taste like, she disagreed saying that all of the people she knows do cook from scratch, and know not only where to get “real” food but insist on using as much local and organic foods as possible.

I disagreed, and reminded her that those in her circle of friends are relatively affluent and all well educated. They have had the means and opportunity to be exposed to what food can and should be. This is not the perspective of the vast majority of Americans.

Most people are simply ignorant when it comes to food, on a number of different levels.

In part this is due to our society moving away from an agricultural society and into a technological one. Other factors are cultural. Just 75 years ago who was responsible for feeding the average family? Where did the food come from?

Look at all of the “World of Tomorrow” films from the post WWII era. Mother is freed from the drudgery of house work with the aid of dishwashers, microware ovens, and “space aged” TV dinners. SPAM, for goodness sake, SPAM cookbooks abounded.

Now, I’m not trading my dishwasher for anything, the microwave is positively indispensable in its primary role as chief coffee re-heater, but check out the TV dinner industry and how much money is being made there today. And the only place for SPAM is fall out shelters and Monty Python musicals. Somebody, lots of somebodies, are eating that mess on a regular basis.

America in general has developed a taste for cardboard and tin cans, so is it any wonder that outside of people who have developed a passion for food, those who have special dietary needs for health reasons and those with the education and money to seek out the best of everything are the only ones who know that a pretty tomato is not necessarily a tasty tomato.

An entirely separate rant is the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables that are picked green and gassed to appear ripe. (I know there are fruits and vegetables that ripen off the vine and a cabbage gains more nutritional value if you put it in the cellar for a while, but in general you are not getting the same nutritional value.) We are a well fed, and often obese, nation that is malnourished. Crazy, ain’t it.

As an anecdote:
I catered a function where good old fashioned lemon bars was part of the dessert table. I was approached by a lady who was “famous” for her lemon bars. She had to know what my recipe was because mine were so “divine”. She stood there with her adult daughter (both waiting to hear my secret) and said she didn’t understand because it was virtually the same recipe she used. At that point, I pretty much figured I knew what the difference was. I told her I squeezed fresh lemons for the juice. She admitted that she always uses that junk in the green jar. Guess what, even after tasting the difference she declared that squeezing lemons was too much work for her, but she would be glad to buy them from me!

This is America, convenience trumps quality for the majority of the population.
post #5 of 22
All to true, I avoid as much commercial produce as possible. Celery is about the only thing I buy this time of year. Rest is coming from my garden and the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) I am a member of. My friends have me cook for them sometimes and I cringe when I have to use the cheap generic stuff instead of quality ingredients.
post #6 of 22
>I was hesitant to use them because they were regular supermarket, commercial tomatoes,<

How do you know they were Early Girls, Shel? Early Girl is not a typical supermarket variety. It's more common has a home-grown hybrid. The biggest commercial variety, in terms of supermarket sales, is Celebrity.

>This is America, convenience trumps quality for the majority of the population.<

And always has. The Declaration of Independence was signed quickly for that reason. The hall was next to a stable, and the horse flies that summer especially fierce. "Treason," Jefferson later wrote in his letters, "was preferable to discomfort."

>are relatively affluent and all well educated. They have had the means and opportunity to be exposed to what food can and should be.<

I only partially agree with this idea. What's true is that people who are oriented to real food, properly prepared, are more likely to be affluent and educated. But otherwise smart, well-to-do people are not automatically foodies. Most of them are just as convenience oriented as the rest of the population.

>the microwave is positively indispensable in its primary role as chief coffee re-heater, <

This, really, is the crux of the discussion. The basic question, always, should be "whose ox is getting gored." I could argue that serious coffeeheads never drink reheated coffee, for instance.

So how does one reconcile reheated coffee and 1,500 mile tomatoes?

The reasons American food is what it is has been beaten to death, so no need reiterating it. Except to point out that it's one of the reasons the general population views organic as an overpriced joke.

Another aspect, often overlooked, is the influence of government regs and definitions. Sometime y'all need to look up the official definition of vine ripened as it applies to tomatoes.

Phui!

>My friends have me cook for them sometimes and I cringe when I have to use the cheap generic stuff instead of quality ingredients. <

You phrase that as if there were only two choices, Mary. In fact, if you can't use the quality, locally grown stuff, you may as well use generic, because about 90% of the time the only difference between generic and branded is the cost past-through of advertising, marketing, etc. It's the same stuff, being packaged in the same factories.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #7 of 22
I've had very inconsistent results with "organic" labeled products, both fresh and packaged. To me...it isn't a mark of a better product. It's just too inconsistent. I've also had disappointing results at local farmers markets. I'll talk a bit with a vendor and if all seems well I'll purchase few items from them. But I've talked to a vendor at my Local Market and he was saying how the eggs are so fresh he was up late cleaning them. That sounded good except when I cracked one in the pan the white spread across the entire pan. I've had eggs that were freshly laid and that were days to weeks old. There was no excuse for the product I received. I've had similar results with "fresh" pork and beef at local markets too.

I've got one more market to try, which is Chicago's green city farmers market. This is really further than I want to drive but I'm running out of local choices. Things seem to be about high yield, good color, easy transporting and pleasing shape. I may have to end up making a drive to Chicago once in a while...we'll see.

Mary had mentioned CSA's. I'm too late to get in many of them for this years bounty. But it will give me an opportunity to check out some of the farms this year...and talk to a few of the farmers about their practices. But I'm hoping that this may be an answer to my problems of trying to find good produce and meats.

Is this what America eats? Yes, I believe it is. But there seems to be a growing number of people that are trying to buy better products. I believe some of them are driven by wanting better tasting food.

dan
post #8 of 22
The last time I cooked for friends it was lasagna. I have nothing against the cheap walmart tomato sauce but they insisted on parm from the green can, mozzarella that was the absolute cheapest, and 70% ground beef even though I could have brought some 90% grass fed organic. They say that real cheese is to strong and that the grass fed beef is to gamy. It goes to show that Americans taste buds are badly abused. Some canned products are acceptable but when it comes to using fresh ingredients and someone insists on poor ingredients I shudder, shut up and cook it.
post #9 of 22
Oooh, I just knew we’d be hearing from you on this one, KY.

I agree with your partial agreement concerning education/affluence with” foodieness”. My point to my friend was that her friends weren’t exactly “the masses” therefore her belief that “most folks” cook the way she does was a bit off. Often, especially when we are passionate about something, it is easy to loose sight of the fact that not everyone shares our unique perspective on things. Nor do they care about things that we hold dear.

I hear you on micro waved coffee and would like to clearly state that I am less of a coffee snob and more of a caffeine addict. Instant caffeine is better than no caffeine.:blush:

I didn’t touch the issue of gov’t regs and such or even hybrids because I knew you’d be coming along sooner or later with a lot more practical knowledge than I have. But, I’ve seen ‘em and it’s ridiculous. (BTW I’ve tracked down some of your articles on heirloom gardening and have shared them with friends and family. I intend to put your information into practice as soon as I can and have been meaning to ask you for some direction on selecting seeds.)

I come from two different traditions of agricultural people.
My mother’s father was a share cropper (and a prison guard at the state pen later in life). My mother’s people were so glad to be rid of the back breaking practice of farming that they embraced the commercial products. No one ever gave up their tomato patches, but they were happy to see the hybrids come along because they produced a more reliable crop. Sterile, but reliable.

My father’s father was a child of the 19th century and what is best described as a gentleman farmer. The back breaking part was left to others, he did all of the planning and none of the executing He died before my parents met, but my father tells of how Granddaddy thought that hybrids were an abomination. Actually, he thought they were part of a gubment plot to make farmers dependant on the Feds for seed. Then again there weren’t too many Southerners of his ilk from the 19th century that didn’t harbor a burning hatred for the Feds.

My ideas about food are a hybrid (pun intended) of these two traditions: convenience tempered with purity and vise versa.

But back to those gov’t regs:

“Organic “ is now a gov’t regulated term as well and is just as much a marketing tag as “fat free” and “low carb” these days. Giving a number of people the idea that organic = over priced, specialty or hoity-toity.

Yet, look here at people who know and want better and can’t truly find it.

The question (although Shel was really just ranting) is whether we care enough to do something about what has become of America’s food situation and if so, what? No one wants to tilt at windmills.
post #10 of 22
Thread Starter 
Early Girls are very common in the markets around here, both in regular supermarkets, some organic groceries, and even at the farmers' markets that I frequent.

Never heard of Celebrity.

shel
post #11 of 22
because we are a smaller country we dont have quite the same bulk growing thing as you do in the usa,so our fruit and veges have lots of great flavour, tourists love our fruit and veges and the way they taste. Its not just your tomatoes that are tasteless, i have eaten some california plums recently and they looked luscious but had no taste.
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when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires

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post #12 of 22
McDonalds and such didn't get where they are because America demands good food - they want their fat and they want it NOW! A Subway sandwich is head and shoulders above the typical burger in terms of taste, quality and nutrition, but I know a couple of local delis that make Subways seem like maggot fodder by comparision.

Back to tomatoes - we have a small garden, room for only a few tomato plants. One variety I planted this year is black Russian, I really hope I get a decent crop, I'm dying to try some.

Lately in some salads and sandwiches I've been substituting roasted red bell peppers for tomatoes - not a concern about salmonella, but a concern that store bought tomatoes are useless.

mjb.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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post #13 of 22
>Its not just your tomatoes that are tasteless,....<

You're absolutely correct, Tessa. But because tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in America, they serve as shorthand to describe the whole mess.

Just for a quick explanation, commercial varieties in America are developed for only one purpose---to fit the needs of the food distribution system. Among the characteristics they select for are pest resistence, skin toughness (to withstand the rigors of truck, rail, and air transportation), uniformity of size, shape and color (what we call the smooth-round-red syndrome), ability to withstand cold storage. Etc. Nowhere in that list does flavor appear. Hybrids are never selected with that in mind, and when they do taste good it's an accident.

>Giving a number of people the idea that organic = over priced, specialty or hoity-toity. <

That was the point I tried to make, Izbnso. Organic produce, as it appears in supermarkets, is not a product of the small, diverse farms we associate with the term. Instead it comes from the organic divisions of the huge factory farms, who, basically, follow the same growing and shipping methods they do with conventional crops.

Let's talk about plant needs for a minute, just so people (none of you true believers, now, cuz I won't argue facts against emotion) understand what's going on.

A plant has needs for 16 nutrients, three majors and a bunch of minors. If those nutrients are available, in soluble form, then the plant is happy, and does its thing. But the key part is that the plant doesn't care where those nutrients come from. You can grow organically. Or you can grow using synthetic fertilizers. Either way, combine the nutrients with the right mix of moisture and sunlight and the plant will grow exactly the same way.

The ideas that organic vegetables taste better, or are more nutritious, is sheer nonsense. That used to be the case, when organics were grown by people who saw themselves as stewards of the land. The flavor and nutrition came not from their growing methods, but from the varieties they chose to grow.

There are good reasons for growing organically, but taste and nutritions, per se, are not among them.

However, the opposite is also true. If you take the same tasteless hybrid, grow it using monocultural technques, harvest it green, and gas it just before delivery so it turns red it will be the same lousy tomato you get over by the conventional stuff.

And that's precisely the situation that prevails. Factory farming remains the same---including the artificially inflated prices they charge for "organics." Supermarkets therefore charge more for produce that is indistinguishable from conventional. And the consumer, justifyably, develops an erroneous idea about what organics are.

Meanwhile, becoming certified as an organic grower costs so much in time and money that the real organic grower cannot affort certification.

But what the heck. Monsanto all but wrote the regulations. So it should be no surprise who they favor.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #14 of 22
>Early Girls are very common in the markets around here,<

That's really interesting, Shel. I've never been in a supermarket anywhere in the country that identified it's tomatoes by variatal name.

Sometimes the type it specified---i.e., Roma. And, by law, they have to ID things that are hydroponically grown. And, if they have stuff that meets the "vine ripened" definition, it makes marketing sense to do so.

More and more, again for marketing reasons, we sees bins marked "heirloom tomatoes." But no breakdown as to the variety name.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #15 of 22
>BTW I’ve tracked down some of your articles on heirloom gardening and have shared them with friends and family.<

Awww, gee, shucks (scuffles feet in dirt). Time to get a bigger hat.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #16 of 22
Thanks for sharing KYH. I've got a small backyard and some vegetables and herbs mixed into the landscaping. The tomatoes that I'm growing are in pots and doing fairly decent...with exception of the fact I'm battling blossom-end rot :( I'm using a spray (end-rot I think)...it seems to have helped but I need to reapply about every five to six days or they start rotting again.


Partially because of this thread I started to search outside of my farmers markets for good produce (including tomatoes). I went to localharvest.org and entered in my zip code. The last link on the list looks to be promising for some good tomatoes. We'll see :) Audi's Acres Tomatoes

Good news on the tomato front? My first tomato is starting to turn from green to red :)


dan
post #17 of 22
Thread Starter 
You might want to check the URL for Audi's Acres. There's an error that prevents the page from opening.

shel
post #18 of 22
Link fixed.

thanks
post #19 of 22
I don't want to threadjack this discussion, GoneFishin. If you want we can move it to the gardening forum.

But, while the causes of BER are not fully underestood we do know it's associated with a calcium deficiency. Usually effects early fruits only, because the soil is cool, and calcium won't go into a form the plant can use.

Container growing has it's own problems, all of them having to do with moisture and nutrition. And that might be your problem. For a quick fix, spread a circle of powdered milk around the plant before you water, and let it work itself down into the soil. That should help.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #20 of 22
I'm considering some container gardening so that I can move plants into the warmer, well-lit back porch when the weather starts turning cooler and get a decent harvest as the winter approaches. I'll have to keep the powdered milk idea in memory.

As someone else mentioned, tomatoes are not the only example of home-grown being a major improvement over store bought. I did some grilled, stuffed zucchini tonight with a mushroom, bell pepper, green onion, cheese and garlic filling. I used a bit of home grown garlic from the garden. That little clove of garlic, no bigger than a lima bean, had so much more, uh, garlicosity than an entire head of a fat, firm, voluptuos specimen from MegaStuffMart.

mjb.

PS: I got a small wedge of a real Roquefort blue that was intended to be added to the zucchini - it didn't happen. One taste, another little bite, just a sample, well, gosh, that was quick, where did it all go? Burp.

Garlicosity?? Who said that?
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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post #21 of 22
Can't beat fresh from the garden. I had a salad today with 4 leaf lettuces, cucumber, green pepper, and peas that were picked an hour before supper. Tomorrow is beet greens with ham hock, potato salad with new potatoes, and roasted beets. All picked fresh today.
post #22 of 22
Teamfat, it's not just the calcium you have to worry about.

Because containers are elevated into the air they dry out faster. Which means you water more often (in some places, that means twice a day). This in turn means that you are leaching out nutrients at a relatively fast rate.

Thus, you have to feed container plants much more often than you would the same plants if they were in the ground. Whether using organic or synthetic fertilizers, you usually have to feed container plants on the average of every two weeks.

The nice thing about tomatoes is that they tell you---usually with the color or condition of the leaves---if they're missing anything.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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