Saturday, March 21, 2015

You say "Tomato", she says "Tomahto", I say "Criollo".

The tomato may have originated in México (or in the Andes), but among tomato connoisseurs, the Mexican grown fruit/berry of the nightshade Solanum lycopersicum  has gotten a bad rep. I add, justifiably so. The common jitomates saladets or huajes (essentially the same as a Roma tomato, but nowhere as much flavor.), abundantly available in mercados  and supermercados are too often underripe fruits with little flavor. It has been argued by some that the saladet is best for purposes other than eating out of hand; as in salsas and cooked foods.

It's true that these fleshy but insipid fruits perform best when broiled, for example, before adding their mild flavor to a picante chile salsa. But for fans of juicy, ripe, raw tomatoes, better tomatoes are essential: for eating out of hand, in salads, for tomato sandwiches, and, for the World's Greatest Sandwich, yes; the BLT! Glory to Blessed Tonantzín for Her gifts!

Blesséd Lycopene Loaded Tomato sandwich.
Summers, when we visit our family in New Jersey, a great pleasure are the red ripe, fragrant tomatoes available there. Back in our Arkansaw years, we would revel in the fresh, ripe tomatoes grown and harvested not far from our home (often by Mexican field workers.)

What does México offer us tomato lovers in recompense for the pallid saladets? Well, there are great rewards, but  they are ephemeral.

For barely more than a week in 2012, Frutería Dany's in Pátzcuaro had "black" globe tomatoes; juicy and of superior taste. But they were never offered again at Dany's.

Black Prince Heirloom Tomato. (Not quite as "black" as Dany's)

Around the same time, we were in Zihuatanejo, where I was delighted to find Tomates Criollos, and colorful Tomates Cherrys.

Don't judge a good tomato by the color of its skin. Even still green, the tomate criollo  beats the saladet in the flavor stakes.

Still green, but these tomates criollos will quickly ripen 
More robust tomates criollos
For the purpose of illustration, let's have a photo of Tomates Cherrys.

Tomates cherrys tend to be tarter than the criollos.
Their lifespan is short.
It was this past January, in Oaxaca,Oaxaca, that we truly hit the Tomates Criollos jackpot. The Mercado  de la Merced, across the avenue from our hotel, had the precious criollos almost everyday. I won't swear to it, but I think that they were $12 pesos a kilo.

Clockwise, from L-R : Tomates "Criollos" bolas, Tomates Criollos,
Jitomates saladets or huajes; chiles de agua.
While in Oaxaca we'd eat Tomates Criollos nearly every day. We improvised a tomato washing and disinfecting rig in the bathroom sink from a plastic bag filled with tap water and a few drops of Microdyn.

How about a close up shot of those glorious tomatoes?

Glory, glory, glory! The tomates bolas, L, are pretty good two, but second in flavor to the "creased" criollos on the right.

How to derive maximum pleasure when eating Tomates Criollos and Tomates Cherrys. A few suggested ways:

Here, Tomates Cherrys offset the salt tang of anchovies and capers
of a Pizza Napoletana, from the, alas! now closed Café Santina in Zihua.

Torta Casera Vegetariana, featuring Tomates Criollos and organic lettuces.
(All ingredients from the Mercado de La Merced, Oaxaca 2015)

Our former neighbors, Geni and Larry, returned recently from a short visit to Zihuatanejo. They brought back both Tomates Cherrys  and Tomates Criollos. We quickly made good use of them.

Salad of Pepinos Persas, Tomates Cherrys y Cebolla. Homemade Croutons.

Tomate Criollos sliced, fresh basil, olive oil and coarse salt

"Cemita" sandwich of Tomate Criollo and basil
I encourage you tomato lovers out there that if you see Tomates Criollos for sale (and Tomates Cherrys, to a lesser degree), grab all you can.

This concludes today's program.

Just to be a nice guy, I won't post a video of the highly annoying song, "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off." But if you cahn't live without hearing it, just click here, and you can get your fill of tomahtos, and potahtos.

Late Breaking News:
Cristina Potter, the noted blogger of Mexico Cooks! (probably the most authoritative blog on Mexican cooking) mentions tomates criollos as one aspect of her post yesterday, "Food Wanderings in Mexico: Memories of 2014". In it, she identifies the tomates criollos as "tomates riñon",or, "kidney tomato". 
You can read it here.
Most fascinating, she writes that the tomate riñon is an icon in France, where it is known as Coeur de Boeuf, nearly identical in all but size to its Mexican progenitors.
Thanks to Mexico Cooks!, our knowledge of our favorite tomato has increased.

Don Cuevas


Steve Cotton said...

Tomatoes have been my greatest disappointment in moving to Mexico. We do get an occasional shipment of sweet cherry tomatoes here, but the standards are as tasteless here as they are when they arrive at Safeway markets up north. I just finished my last dish of a Greek salad made from cherry tomatoes. Expensive, but worth the cost.

sparks said...

I have 6-7 cherry tomato plants about ready to produce more than I can eat. Have a few Roma plants and will see if they are sweeter fresh

DonCuevas said...

Nice work, Sparks.
Doña Cuevas has tried to grow tomatoes here at the Rancho, but it seems that the climate is too cool for the plants.

Don Cuevas

DonCuevas said...

Steve, the Tomates Uvas (Grape Tomatoes) as sold at Costco Morelia, aren't bad, but still fall short of the criollos in taste.


jennifer rose said...

There is no reason why everyone can't grow their own tomatoes. All it takes is motivation. All right, the larger tomatoes are more difficult, but cherry tomatoes come in a vast array of flavors and styles.

DonCuevas said...

We can testify that Jennifer's cherry tomatoes are excellent. I'd better get Sra. Cuevas (our Gardeness) on the ball.


Felipe Zapata said...

You're a humorous fellow.

Occasionally, cherry tomatoes show up at Costco.

DonCuevas said...

Thank you, Felipe. I try to be entertaining as well as informative.

We regularly buy "grape" tomatoes at Costco, which are a distant second the the tomates criollos. I haven't seen cherry tomatoes there yet, but I'll be looking for them.

Don Cuevas

Georgia said...

As you know Don Cuevas, I always try to bring a generous supply of tomates criollos back with me from Zihua. It's a sad day when I cannot find them. Like you, I use them for tomato preserves and they don't grow here in Arocutin - too cool. One day I might have a green house. Sigh.

DonCuevas said...

Georgia, you just need to go to Zihuatanejo more often, to help keep us supplied with tomates criollos.

Don Cuevas

DonCuevas said...

Guest Georgia wrote:

"As you know Don Cuevas, I always try to bring a generous supply of tomates criollos back with me from Zihua. It's a sad day when I cannot find them. Like you, I use them for tomato preserves and they don't grow here in the Lake Pátzcuaro area - too cool. One day I might have a green house. Sigh.

Kim G said...

When people ask me about Mexican food, I usually say that it's wonderful in conception, but often fails in execution. Which is another way to say that there are lots of fabulous dishes poorly prepared.

Yet the country has such tremendous potential culinarily speaking. The climate allows wonderful things to be grown all year round, and there are tons of exotic fruits and vegetables too.

But it's a sad thing about the tomatoes. I had always assumed that my somewhat disappointing experience with Mexican tomatoes was due to having mostly bought them at the mercado near F's house. (Which was far from a gourmet-oriented place.) But I'm now saddened to learn that a good tomato is hard to find elsewhere.

Perhaps you do need to grow your own. I'm sure you'd get a very long season with tons of fruit to harvest.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where the tomatoes (and other produce) were a distinct letdown compared to those in our home state of California.

Kim G said...

Jennifer also has a secret source of chicken manure. Don't forget that!

DonCuevas said...

I would tend to agree with you, Kim G, but as the cuisine of Mexico is so diverse, it would be less than accurate to generalize.

The climate in the Lake Pátzcuaro are is too cool and too short a growing season for tomatoes to flourish. Hothouses might make tomato growing feasible.

(Besides having a secret source of chicken manure, Ms Rose's garden is at a considerably lower elevation than ours.)

Don Cuevas