As a kid growing up in Anaheim, CA, the tomato choices at the markets were basically roma, cherry and beefsteak. To get a tomato that tasted, well, like a tomato, you had to grow it yourself. I recall talking to a tomato grower from Nipomo, CA. He was Merlin Lee of Patricia Lee farms. He grew tomatoes that, well, tasted like tomatoes. They were green house grown with a hydroponic method. He used seeds that in the 1980s cost some $800 per pound and imported minerals from Europe to fertilize the plants.
They were so good that Marks and Spencers of Great Britain sent a buyer out to inspect the operation. They were better than tomatoes from Holland or the Canary Islands, where the winter tomatoes were being grown. The downside was that M&S wanted some 2,000,000 pounds over a three month period in the winter and Patricia Lee Farms only produced that much over the entire year. When Merlin was looking for great tasting tomato seed, suppliers could only offer seeds for tomatoes that could bounce off a wall when ripe!
Segue to today...
There are more varieties of heirloom tomatoes, vine tomatoes, assorted cherry and mini pear tomatoes than you could imagine. The above pictured tomato, indigo apple tomato, was at the local farmers market yesterday. I had to do a double take to be sure it was a tomato. I will use it on a dinner I am cooking tonight for a client. The top six heirloom tomatoes are Brandywine, Gold Rush Currant, Super Snow White, Beams Yellow Pear, Black Cherry heirloom, Cuban Yellow Grape.
By the way, they tasted just like a real tomato.
Chef Michael Hutchings