We were sitting around with a few friends over the weekend grilling some steaks, cobs of corn and enjoying a couple bottles of red, when a California trip that I had taken last year came up. We were looking at my potted tomato and pepper plants on the patio and it reminded me of how different the produce we get at our local grocery stores taste compared to the “real” veggies I had picked and eaten in the Central Coast. I love nothing more than a real fresh, ripe, delicious tomato and I haven’t been able to find any for the past ten years here in Florida. I wonder if some of my local friends have ever had the pleasure of tasting a ripe, red, homegrown tomato that tasted like a tomato should. I’m originally from Northwest Pennsylvania and we always grew our own tomatoes. I haven’t been able to grow them as easily here in Florida mainly because I don’t have much of a “green thumb”. Back home you only had to bury the root pod of the little tomato plant in the rich, dark soil, water them every so often and before long you had more tomatoes than you knew what to do with. With the sandy soil and lawn pests of my part of Florida I have had to become a horticulturist just to grow grass (which I have trouble with also), so growing vegetables has become a very big challenge. So I have tried yet again and so far the tomatoes are growing and my peppers are, as always, flourishing. I can’t figure it out: I can’t grow a tomato to save my life, but my Cayenne, Banana and Datils produce so much fruit I end up giving away as much as I eat.
If any of you have any secrets as to the way to grow real tomatoes here in the heat and sand of Florida, please let me know. Don’t make go through another summer eating the hard, pink, tasteless supermarket variety of tomato. I’ll let you know how mine turned out in a month or two.
Ken Amendola, North Florida (Jacksonville area) Wine Supervisor