Sunday, December 27, 2015

What the heck is that? Kumato tomatoes

Try this experiment at home: drop a supermarket tomato off the counter and see if it gets damaged. 

I inadvertently performed this experiment on some plum tomatoes I was using for a red lentil dish. Nope, they emerged unscathed. 

We all value resilience, of course, but this is a little ridiculous – and an echo of the description in the book Tomatoland of Florida-grown supermarket tomatoes falling off the truck and remaining dent-free. (And I don't mean to imply that this is the worst attribute of supermarket tomatoes, grown in nutrient-free sand, doused in eye-popping amounts of pesticide and harvested under slavery-like conditions. But, yes, there are times when I still buy them.)

I went ahead and used these tomato-bots – I pumped up the tomato flavor with tomato paste and enjoyed the texture and slight sourness the supermarket tomatoes contributed to the dish. 

But using tomatoes in a cooked lentil dish is one thing; a fresh salad is another. Are there viable tomato options for a salad in December?

Enter the kumato.

Kumatoes have a striking appearance - their color is reminiscent of autumn leaves, encompassing various hues of green and brown in addition to their basic red.

Typically when you see a tomato with an exotic appearance, it's hanging out at the farmers' market.

You might have mistaken the kumato for an heirloom variety, had you first seen it in a farmers' market rather than encased in plastic. Kumatoes are actually cultivated (but not genetically modified) tomato variety. They were first bred in Spain; now their patent is held by a Swiss company, Syngenta. Kumatoes have a higher sugar content than most tomatoes (yum) balanced out with some tang, and thicker skins, which make them hardier than regular tomatoes. To help kumatoes stand out even more in shoppers' minds, Sunset, the North American representative for the kumato brand, trademarked the phrase "Simply Unique Brown Tomato" and put the catchphrase on the kumato packaging. 

The kumato tomatoes were delicious in a chopped garden salad, and earned a lot of "How did you manage to pull off a decent salad with winter tomatoes?" compliments. The green and brown hues of the tomatoes got lost in the normal exuberance of a salad. I give the kumato high grades for taste.

But of course it's hard to be unique - even if you're trademarked as such.

Sacher tomatoes, seen here at a farmer's market, are probably mistaken for heirlooms by most shoppers, simply because of their context. But like kumato tomatoes, sachers are carefully cultivated hybrids. Even their name is carefully selected: "Sacher" is intended to connote the chocolately deliciousness of a sacher torte.  As we saw with apple breeding, taste is just one part of the package - the most successful products are also hardy and memorable in the marketplace.

Kumato tomatoes can cope with their farmers' market rivals (and so far, I haven't seen sachers make the leap out of the farmers' market). In fact, the better-because-they're-odd farmers' market varieties help give kumato tomatoes their street cred. But the success of one supermarket "European brown gourmet tomato" can't help but spawn imitators. 

Watch out kumato - brunetta's right behind you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

When Bad Produce Happens to Good People - Fuyu Persimmons

Sometimes my Produce Proselytizing goes way beyond my expectations.  
Of all the fruits I've talked up, none has become more popular among my friends than fuyu persimmons.

Some of this success is due to the very real charms of the fuyus themselves. Once sampled, these sweet, flavorful fruits can easily become favorites. (And unlike hachiya persimmons, fuyus aren't bitter and astringent when hard.)  This time of year, most fruit stands include a fuyu display. Fuyus are also pretty cheap, encouraging experimentation and frequent purchases.

My friend Lol identified yet another factor in her own growing fondness for fuyus. As she told me, “Ever since you introduced me to these persimmons, I can't get enough of them! And they're good in so many stages of ripeness. I like them hard like apples – and when they're super-soft, like pudding. And I like them in every stage in between.”

Despite my enthusiasm, I am not quite so tolerant of all fuyu candidates. 

I like fuyus only in the hard-like-apple stage. If they get a bit soft, I have to slice the fruit very thinly - and sometimes I have to dust them with cinnamon - in order to make them palatable. In theory, I could cut a too-soft fuyu in half and scoop the flesh out with a spoon -- many people's preferred way of eating them, as it happens. But in practice, I am more likely to make a gift of the fruit to someone who actually likes 'em soft rather than gussy them up to make them merely tolerable.

Some fuyu persimmons can challenge the inclusive love of even an open-minded enthusiast like Lol. These dinged-up fruit, for example.

I can avoid buying persimmons that look like this at the time of purchase, but I haven't managed to avoid bad fuyus entirely. It's my own fault:  I have occasionally bought so many fuyus that some of them have inevitably gotten forgotten in the back of the fridge or in the bottom of a backpack. When finally discovered, the fuyus' firmness has become a hazy memory, and I'm left with fuyus no better than ones I would have shunned.

So there any hope for these dented, bruised persimmons?


One option I explored was a kick-the-can-forward cryonics. I simply froze the fuyus to delay further decay while I hoped that a better plan would come to mind.

Just chillin'

I was inspired by the idea of freezing overripe bananas for smoothies (seldom made by me, but you might like them) or sweet bread (ditto, but here's a nice recipe for persimmon bread). But unlike slender and easily chopped frozen bananas, frozen whole fuyus are like baseballs. If you plan persimmon bread or smoothies, I suggest you pulp the fuyus before freezing. And if you want to use them in pancakes or oatmeal (my tip for bad blueberries), I suggest dicing them.
I was left with one plausible alternative for my sad fuyu baseballs: baking them whole. I decided to use the same technique for their squishy, unfrozen kin (even though I had the pulping and dicing options for them).

I like to add cinnamon to anything baked, so I installed a fuyu in a ramekin and then dusted the ramekin with cinnamon.

I added a bit of water for a nice brown bath. I already had the oven engaged at 375 degrees for another baking project, and I popped the fuyu dish in. I added a little more water after 15 minutes, and pulled the dish out after about 25 - 30 minutes in the oven. My persimmons sported cinnamon rings around their midriffs, corresponding to the water level. I tried not to think of bathtub rings.

I had kept the fuyus' leafy tops in place before baking for practical reasons. They would be tough to remove on the frozen guys and their removal would make the squishy fruit even messier. But they ended up adding a pleasing note. Baked and burnished, the tops enhanced the autumn glow of the baked fruit. The tops came out easily when I cut the fuyus in half.

I enjoyed the appearance of the persimmons' dense orange flesh, a big improvement of their squishy dented selves. But never mind appearances. What about taste? There was good news on this front. The baked fuyus had dense, honeyed flesh and a taste that embodied many great fall flavors: sweet potato, pumpkin and baked apple. Dignity restored!

And if Lol ever determines that some fuyus actually don't pass muster, she'll have yet another way to love her persimmons.