Tomatoes are very important to our neighbor, Keith Blizzard. He starts his own tomato plants every spring. Each year he experiments with new techniques, and grows several varieties to perfect his harvests. He’s even got an on-going competition with his brother to see who can produce a homegrown tomato to serve at the family Thanksgiving dinner.

Our neighborhood tomato connoisseur Keith Blizzard brings late tomatoes to the perfect ripeness in his basement. Photo courtesy of Lynette Walther.

I’ve sampled some of the products of Keith’s tomato garden. They are good, but in all honesty they simply cannot hold a candle to the tomatoes of my childhood that grandmother grew. Now that another garden season has passed, and we’ve cleaned out the vegetable plot, composted or hauled away another disappointing year of tomato plants, we still yearn for a tomato that tastes like the ones we remember. No matter, our garden repertoire this year included “heirloom” choices, Beefstakes, ‘Mortage-lifters,’ ‘Brandywines,” etc. Those tomatoes may have been pretty, but they just did not taste like the ones we used to relish.

So, I hereby do announce an open challenge to plant developers, hybridizers and garden seed suppliers everywhere: We demand — no, we have the right, to a homegrown tomato that tastes like they used to.

Everyone knows store-bought tomatoes taste like wet cardboard, and we understand how taste got sidelined as hybridizers developed tomatoes that shipped and stored without spoiling. Why last winter I had a store-bought tomato I experimented with — left it sitting out on the counter to see how long it would last. Two months later that sassy, little bright-red tomato was still going strong, showing no signs whatsoever of rotting. Eventually after three or so months of its mocking presence on my kitchen counter, I got tired of seeing it sitting there and chucked it into the compost bucket.

Shoot, the seeds from that bullet-proof tomato are probably just lurking down there among the rotting fruits and vegetables and leaves and dandelions, ready to spring forth with invincible insipid tomato plants next spring. Yikes.

And, we also know, there have been a lot of so-called tomato “improvements” over the years for those who grow their own. There are tomatoes that are more disease resistant; tomatoes that are short on leaves and structure; can grow in containers and yet still produce buckets of fruit; black tomatoes; tiny yellow tomatoes shaped like lightbulbs — you name it. But, as the years have passed, we have noticed with an increasing state of alarm no matter how they “improve” tomatoes, the taste just isn’t there. In fact, it diminishes every year.

Bar none, the most flavorful of all tomatoes are wild ones, the true ancestors of the tomatoes we grow today. The internet tells us: “It is known to botanists as Solanum pimpinellifolium, or simply “pimp.” The plant is the wild ancestor of all the tomatoes we eat today, and still grows wild in northern Peru and southern Ecuador.” Although the pimp, or wild tomato is recognized as the tastiest of all tomatoes, the pimp has its drawbacks. The main one being is that the pimp is usually about the size of a blueberry

 

Okay, so change can be good, and over time tomatoes were “improved” from those tiny little pimps, until we got a meaty tomato we could grow at home, one with the perfect balance of sweet to salty to sour that could be cut into nice fat slices, paired so perfectly with lettuce, mayonnaise and bacon on toasted bread for that Holy Grail of summer sandwiches. Of course, there are the purists who insist on simply thick slices of tomatoes, good mayonnaise and sliced white bread. But, there is one thing they all insist on: FLAVOR. It’s why we go to the bother of growing them.

Cherry tomatoes are often the most flavorful and usually the first to ripen in gardens here. Photo courtesy of Lynette Walther.

Nevertheless, as the years went by, no matter how we improved the soil in our gardens, no matter how we primp, prune and fuss over them, the plants started to fail us with harvests of tomatoes that looked just fine. In fact they looked exactly like those we used to grow, maybe even better. But, the taste was gone. I don’t have to tell you about it. You already know. You’ve been complaining about it for years now, right? But why is it? What happened?

Well there is a perfectly simple explanation as to what happened. It was YOU.

Again, we turn to the internet for help in trying to fathom why those home grown tomatoes just don’t taste like they used to: “Between the ages of 40 and 50, the number of taste buds decreases, and the rest begin to shrink, losing mass vital to their operation. After age 60, you may begin to lose the ability to distinguish the taste of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter foods.”

See? Now do you understand why I am beseeching tomato developers everywhere to come up with a Senior Citizen tomato?

This new tomato will not be for the young, oh no. But, it will definitely be for the young-at-heart, and connoisseurs of a certain age. Like those 55-plus communities, this tomato will not be available to underage gardeners. Absolutely not. Our new tomato will have been developed to compensate for that loss of taste buds with an extra mega-dose of tomato flavor. In fact, it will have a piquancy so assertive that anyone under the age of 55 will simply not be able to tolerate it.

It’s going to be a challenge. There’s no doubt about it. But, if we can land a helicopter on Mars and make it fly in that rarefied atmosphere, just think of what can be accomplished with the development of tomato flavor in a Senior Citizen tomato? So, this call for action has hereby been issued to one and all tomato hybridizers and developers.

There already is a ready market for it, in the U S alone, with the population age 65 and older numbered at 52.4 million in 2018 — the most recent year for which data are available — we are one in every seven Americans. And, get this, the rest of the population is getting older every year.

And here I am offering this incredible concept, this idea, this literally GOLDEN opportunity to those willing to take up the challenge, and I am tossing it out there, free of charge. Of course, we would like to see our Senior Citizen tomato as an attractive one, a tomato big enough to slice up for those summer sandwiches and one that produces a fairly heavy crop. They already have those three qualities down pat. Now for the payoff — remarkable flavor enough to satisfy nostalgia, desire, and that singular home-grown tomato craving.