Shoulda asked Sheila: A Winter Tomato tale

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Sheila McCrindle and Kate Aley


Shoulda Asked Sheila takes your burning food issues of the day, chops 'em up and serves 'em hot and satisfying

Kate asked: Sheila, what is with these tomatoes? The seeds have germinated inside the fruit! Ugh!

Sheila replied: Yikes, where did that come from? Did you buy those?

K: Yes, from Costco! What does it mean? Some of them had even developed the first two leaves; I was briefly considering putting them in a peat pot to see what happened next! But I fed them to the chickens instead.

 S: I found this at Treehugger: “As creepy as it looks this isn't all that uncommon. This condition is called vivipary, and it's prone to happen in some tomato cultivar more than others. When the natural hormone, abscisic acid, is reduced in an overripe tomato the mature seeds can break dormancy and sprout. The moist environment inside of a tomato allows the seedlings to grow for a while without drying out.” Costco is a good company and I have no quarrel with it. The answer to the problem is to basically avoid buying tomatoes out of season or pay premium for greenhouse ones.

K: Are tomatoes one of those types of produce that gets picked green and sprayed with some kind of unmentionable chemical so it stays in good shape when it’s travelling? Can they even do that anymore?

S: The tomatoes we get in the shops have been bred for hardiness and long shelf-life. Producers need them to be tough enough to travel long distances and still look lovely and blemish-free when they sit in pyramids at the grocery store. Sadly, the resulting tomatoes taste a lot like wet napkins. I came across what, in my opinion, is a scandalous situation in an article in Slate which describes the efforts of a tomato breeder to come up with a tasty, easily grown tomato. He succeeded, but the tomato sellers want nothing to do with it. Their point - and it is probably a valid one - is that the tomato-buying public only care about price.

K: So, you are saying that if I want what tastes like a real tomato, I need to wait ‘til real tomatoes can be grown?

S: The short answer is: grow your own. Or at least wait until they are in season.

K: And tomatoes do grow here.

S: They do. And the payoff for planting and harvesting your own is well worth it. The other option is to find local market gardeners who are growing delicious varieties and enthusiastically purchase from them. But really, if you grow only one plant in your vegetable garden, make it a tomato.

K: But what if I need a tomato in the frozen depths of February?

S. I’m not going to be a hard-ass about seasonality; more sanctimonious guff has been spouted on this subject than just about any other. Sometimes you really do just need a fresh tomato. The Manotick greenhouse producer Sun Tech produces a greenhouse grown tomato that is not too bad. Their small tomatoes are quite nice indeed. In fact, I have found that most small, sweet grape-style tomatoes are tasty enough over the winter months, although not really equalling their fresh picked cousins.

K: Thanks for your help. Have to go. I feel a tomato sandwich calling.

The take away message: Get off your lawn chairs and grow yourself some tomatoes this year.

Sheila and Kate would love to argue over your food-related queries. Leave your questions in a comment box... or just ring us up.