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If summer were a taste, for me it would have to be that of a fat, juicy tomato, perhaps with a touch of sea salt and a dash of vinegar. That’s likely due to my childhood in California’s San Joaquin Valley—the “Salad Bowl” of the nation. At least once a week, my dad would come home from visiting with his farmer friends on Robert’s Island, his truck laden with flats of freshly picked produce, including my favorite: vine-ripened tomatoes. After sharing some with neighbors, he’d line the rest along the kitchen counter, reminding my mother not to put them in the refrigerator, lest it kill their fresh flavor. Sometimes I’d eat one right away, still warm from the sun and a bit dusty, the juice trailing down my arms.
I have no earthly idea what variety those delicious red orbs were, but man were they good! We’d have the rest with just about everything. Mom wasn’t much into canning or making sauces, especially not in the 110-plus-degree heat. Instead, our family’s ubiquitous summer dish was a bowl of thickly sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions marinating in oil and vinegar. The Lowcountry has its own tomato-growing history, but in the last decade or so local farmers have been turning out more and more heirlooms, those old-school fruits with funny names, quirky looks, and crazy-good concentration of all kinds of flavors. So last summer, we gathered Oxhearts and Black Krims, Green Zebras and Tigerellas, Cherokee Purples and Indigo Roses, and more from area farms and photographed them in their prime—or as contributor Jeff Allen writes, “exquisitely ripe, just at the edge of ‘going bad.’ Another day might do them in; even a gentle squeeze will bruise them.”
Check out “Ripe for the Picking,” an homage to these delicate and special seasonal treats that includes their flavor profiles, tips on best uses, and delicious recipes from three local chefs. Tastes like summer to me!