Whitesburg KY

Big tomatoes are ugly, but taste great

Points East

About midsummer just over a year ago, I got an envelope in the mail with a little packet of tomato seed my pal, Fred Beste, had sent me, along with a heads up on the notion that he might have recently discovered the world’s greatest tomato there in Wind Gap, Penn.

Anyway, I dutifully planted a few seeds, then and there, in peat pots, and poured on the Miracleg- Gro, morning noon and night. But I’d shot up all my leftover firecrackers running rabbits off the place and irritating neighbors before I actually got any “Giant Syrians” set out the garden and the bunnies love nothing better than late green tomatoes.

And, in case you all don’t remember, winter started here right after the first of October last year. Fred’s ‘maters didn’t have a fighting chance to prove themselves, red, last fall, but they made a wonderful mess in the skillet when I sliced them up, smothered them in yellow cornmeal and fried them, green, with a handful of basil leaves and olive oil, so hot you could light a match on the fumes, in a cast iron skillet.

Or I could pour some wine in the skillet and strike a match to it if I wanted tomato flambe. Next time I am at the Wind Gap Diner I intend to order ” tomatoe flambe a’la scrappele”, which, loosely translated, means, “bad lard gone badder with fried tomato.” I figure they will give me an extra helping of sausage gravy and an extra biscuit with my eggs if I tell them I know Fred, who is actually better known to them as “that scrapple guy who leaves big tips”.

As it happened, I only used about half the seed in 2013 and kept plenty for starting early this past April. By the time they were big enough to put in the garden in late May, I had already purchased and transplanted several nursery plants in the garden. One or more of the “brought on” plants carried a fast acting blight which spread like cholera on an 18th century sailing ship to all the other plants. My baby Giant Syrians were particularly susceptible to the disease and all eight of them, along with several other heirlooms, died during the first night of the epidemic.

I discovered that I still had three seeds left in Fred’s envelope. To make a long story short, I didn’t get them planted until about the end of May, nor did I get them into 10-gallon planters well away from all others until the first of July, at which point we already had Burpee’s Big Boys getting ripe.

If all you have, in the way of ‘maters, are Big Boys, you soon come to realize that they are way better than having no ‘maters at all. Still, during July and August we have enjoyed a variety of ‘maters, including West Virginia Hillbillies, Indiana Heartthrobs, Brandywines, Pineapples, Big Beef and Mortgage Lifters along with the Big Boys.

Loretta and my kids have told me several times this summer that Mortgage Lifters are the best tomato they have ever tasted and I can tell you, for sure, that not a single one has gone to waste.

Of course that was all before I picked the first ripe Giant Syrian on Labor Day. It may well have been the ugliest tomato I have ever seen. Its face looked a lot like that of Winston Churchill’s bulldog and its wrinkled shoulders refused to ripen beyond dark green. It also lived up to the “Giant” part if its name. I didn’t weigh it but I do know a two-pound tomato when I see one and this one was larger than that.

Loretta sliced off its ugly face, dumped it in the garbage, and proceeded to render the rest if it down to its ugly, withered, shoulders into slabs that would nearly cover the surface of a dinner plate. We each took big bites out of it and simply stared at each other until my wife finally exclaimed, “Now that’s what you call a real tomato”!

So, over the last couple of weeks, we have let a bushel or more of all the other varieties rot there in the garden, or we have given them to friends and family while we wait for the next Giant Syrian to ripen.

I have promised Fred that I will get one to our mutual friend, colleague and tomato gourmet, Tom Miller, there in Berea before they are all gone and I certainly intend to let one over-ripen so that I can save a bunch of seed.

In the meantime, if anyone had told me before this year that I could be out-tomatoed by a Yankee, I would have laughed in his face. But I’m here to fess up. My buddy’s Giant Syrian has pulled it off. I still find it hard to believe that anything so ugly can taste so good.

I’ve looked on the internet for Giant Syrian tomato seed and found nearly a dozen listings, 10 of which do not closely resemble the one Fred sent me. If you do your own search, you will get the same result. Only the biggest, ugliest, ones with green shoulders are apt to be the real McCoy. I will find out where Fred found his and pass the word before next year.

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