Last night I cooked some spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. This was a good dinner, but also a bit sad--I used the last of the tomato sauce from this summer. This summer, we got most of our vegetables from a local farmer, who arranged for someone to leave a big weekly basket on our doorstep. As is typical in New England, we got way too many fresh tomatoes, and decided to boil the surplus into sauce.
But now it's the middle of January, the ground is buried under three feet of snow, and we're out of tomatoes. Oh, sure, the grocery store would happily sell us tomatoes from Mexico, or Europe. But those tomatoes are bred for long-distance transport, not for flavor. Since ripe tomatoes are too soft to ship--but unripe tomatoes are quite sturdy--the multinational seed companies long ago bred tomatoes which turn red without actually ripening. If your tomatoes are crunchy and non-acidic, you're getting ripped off.
Fortunately, I've got a Fedco Seeds catalog with 50 varieties of tomatoes. The most tempting is the "Orange Banana": I never would have believed that the best tomato sauce comes from an orange tomato. But the proof is in the eating and the Orange Banana was the clear winner in our annual paste taste at the Shipmans... Its amazing sprightly sweet flavor, reminiscent of Sungold but with more depth and diverse tones, makes an ambrosial sauce by itself and adds a vivid fruity complexity to any sauce with other tomato varieties. When you're locked in the depths of winter, this sort of catalog copy can be seductive.
Of course, I've never grown tomatoes before, so I might be getting a bit out of my depth. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out.