Published on 07/07/99

Crunchy Tomatoes Tell Why It's Best to Grow Your Own

tomatoslices.jpg (36943 
Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA-ARS

I stopped by a fast-food restaurant the other day and finally decided on one of the fried, spicy, chicken sandwiches.

The young lady at the counter asked if I wanted lettuce and tomato on the sandwich. There was an extra charge, but I thought, "I need to help the farmers, so why not?"

I found a seat and unwrapped the foil. Ah, the aroma was delicious, as was the first bite of chicken. The second bite seemed to include a bit of seaweed -- no, that was the lettuce. Another bite -- "Hmmm. What's crunchy? Tomato? Now, that's adding insult to injury."

'You Know You're in Trouble...'

The tomato, which should have been mellow with that slightly acidic bite, had all of the crunch of a good Granny Smith apple. "You know you're in trouble," I told my wife, "when the tomato has more crunch than the fried chicken."

Tomatoes these days are shipped green. Cultivars are "shippers" first. Taste comes in last. These are better known as 8 mph (miles per hour) tomatoes. That's the kind of shock they can endure and not be bruised.

These tomatoes had been ripened in transit, not on the vine.

Foolproof Tomatoes

The only foolproof way to insure good taste in tomatoes is to grow them yourself. Watch over them, baby them, fertilize, water, prune, pick bugs, etc.

Otherwise, just be reconciled to faint pink slices that lend crunch to your sandwich.

Crunchy tomatoes. To me, that's just another reason to keep those tomatoes growing so you can fix a "real" sandwich at home that tastes the way it should.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.