Inviting Writing: Tomato Surprise

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Our final installment of this month's Inviting Writing challenge, "First Tastes," comes from Kim Kelly of Carlsbad, California, who writes the Liv Life blog.

Stay tuned for the next round of Inviting Writing, which we'll announce on Tuesday, January 18.

A Slice of Heaven

By Kim Kelly

Tomatoes are a new thing for me. While I have always loved salsa, tomato sauce, and even an occasional dab of ketchup, I spent the first 42 years of my life diligently picking anything remotely resembling a tomato out of any salad, sandwich, In-N-Out Burger or taco. Something about the texture and what I remembered (from my one try as a child) as a somewhat “metallic” taste always had me saying, “no, thank you.”

In the past few years, though, articles praising the health benefits of tomatoes flashed across my computer screen and I began letting those tiny diced pieces on my taco slide by. I even kind of got used to those little fragments and almost missed them when they weren't there. Then I bravely ate a slice from a salad. Unfortunately it was a winter tomato, white inside, mushy, a bit mealy and absolutely tasteless. To me it was just, well... for lack of a better word, yucky. The experience set me back a few years.

Two years ago a vendor at my local Carlsbad Farmers Market offered me a slice of heirloom tomato which had only hours earlier been picked fresh from his fields. I have to say his display was quite beautiful. Abundant with dazzling yellow, green, orange, red and even zebra striped tomatoes, I really wanted to like them but was sure I wouldn't. A bright red globe had been sliced and simply dressed with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a light dusting of salt and pepper. Without an easy way to say no and to not offend him, I searched out the smallest slice and wondered how I was going to swallow the expected mushy texture and funky "tin-like" taste. Bracing myself, I popped the piece into my mouth and waited for my expectations to be met. Oh, how wrong I was! The flavor bursting in my mouth was anything but tin-like, and the texture not even remotely mealy. This small slice of heaven brought instead a fleshy yet firm and juicy bite combined with a savory sweetness. With the fresh delicate flavors dancing on my tongue, I found myself groaning in pleasure and actually reaching for a second slice. I purchased my first three tomatoes.

Since that eye-opening day, I have come to realize that there are good tomatoes and bad tomatoes. To me, "bad" (insert: soft, mushy, mealy) tomatoes are not worth eating. Good tomatoes, though, are a treat worth waiting for. That year, I spent my summer craving those luscious, flavor-filled heirlooms, even eating unadorned and plain slices out of hand. Recipes from magazines and internet sources filled my files and I spent leisurely afternoons at the market sharing tips on serving tomatoes with the vendors.

Mid-summer 2010 brought the much anticipated heirloom tomato arrival to our market and I purchased no less than 10 of the brightly colored, heart-shaped orbs the first day they appeared. Adding them to sandwiches, sauces and an extraordinarily tasty Heirloom Tomato Salad topped with Blue Cheese had my husband smirking and laughing at me. As I sat down and fully enjoyed this salad made almost wholly from tomatoes, I realized I had grown. Next summer I think I’ll grow again and give those mysterious yet alluring eggplants a try. Well... maybe.

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