Have you read recently that scientists discovered the reason that store-bought (some would say “industrial”) tomatoes lack flavor? The tasteless tomatoes we find in the grocery or on our fast-food burger have been bred for years with a genetic mutation that would cause them to turn red—a color that consumers prefer to buy. Turns out that this breeding stopped the process for them to develop a rich flavor.
A story in The New York Times said that, “… in a paper published in the journal Science, researchers report that the very gene that was inactivated by that mutation plays an important role in producing the sugar and aromas that are the essence of a fragrant, flavorful tomato.”
Now researchers are looking for a way to genetically engineer a mutation to put flavor back in. I’ve read articles about why this isn’t such a great idea—it may cause some new unforeseen problem—but I don’t know about enough about the science to weigh in on the debate. What I do know is that nothing tastes better on hot summer’s day than a home-grown tomato sandwich with some sharp cheddar cheese and cool mayo.
My mom grew tomatoes in our backyard when I was growing up. When I was little, I loved them so much that I’d sneak some from her garden and rinse them under the hose and wolf them down before she caught me. I loved the smell of those plants in the hot sun.
Lately I’ve tried to grow tomatoes in containers on my back porch here in the city but had no success. Not enough sun—plus I was up against squirrel vandals who would take one bite out of each tomato! But I’m delighted when any friend or colleague brings in a bag of their summer haul to share. Terri Lackey grew some beauties last year (see the photo of some of her crop). And for a chuckle, check out this song by Guy Clark called “Home Grown Tomatoes.”
What about you? What’s your favorite summer produce? Fresh Midwestern sweet corn? Southern peaches baked in a cobbler? Watermelon at a picnic? What do you have a hankering for?
Tomato-loving Kate Elliott is editor of Gather.