Ashley Strickland is an associate producer with CNN.com. She likes twisting her own soft pretzels, perfecting pineapple upside down cake, tackling English toffee, sharing people-pleasin' pizza dip, sunflower cheesecakes and green soup and cajoling recipes from athletes.
Each year, I can tell by the languor of the tomato vines in our backyard that it’s time. They recline like some exhausted 1940s Hollywood starlet, even though we’ve already relieved them of their burden.
The kitchen countertops become laden with fiery red, homegrown tomatoes. Garlic, onions and bell peppers appear in the kitchen in bulk, while fresh herbs disappear from the garden and local grocery store and take up pungent residence in the refrigerator.
Add a quartet of the largest stock pots to the stovetop, and the ritual has begun. It’s time to capture the last sunset of summer in a jar.
For a response from the industry, read Why tomatoes grow in Florida
In the sultry summer heat, there are few flavors more welcome than that of a burstingly fresh, sloppy, sweet, tangy, locally grown tomato. In the winter, though, their grocery store equivalent is barely recognizable as the same fruit. They're hard, uniformly round and almost inevitably taste-free.
They're also mostly trucked in from Florida, where they're grown in some challenging agricultural conditions, and where the industry has come under scrutiny for their labor practices.
Barry Estabrook, author of 'Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit' spoke with Eatocracy about this came to be.
Eatocracy: How did you become invested in telling the story of the modern day tomato?
Estabrook: I became interested in tomatoes when I was in fact attacked by a group of tomatoes. I was driving down an interstate highway in Southwestern Florida and come up behind what I thought at first was a gravel truck. As I got closer, I saw what I took for Granny Smith apples - and I thought, "Those don't grow in Florida." When I got really close, I saw it was full of bright green tomatoes. No pink - just green.
I was mesmerized, and then the truck hit a bump. Three tomatoes came flying off and nearly went through my windshield. I noticed that they hit the pavement on I-75, bounced and then rolled into the ditch.
They didn't shatter, they didn't splatter; they stayed intact. I thought, "My God! What have they done to this wonderful fruit?"
Author Barry Estabrook's book 'Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit' addresses some concerns over the conditions in which modern day tomatoes are harvested, and takes direct aim at the quality of the Florida-produced product.
We spoke with the Florida Tomato Committee's manager Reggie Brown to get his side of this complex story.
Eatocracy: In his book 'Tomatoland,' Barry Estabrook describes climate conditions in Florida that don’t seem to be conducive to growing tomatoes. What went into the decision to grow tomatoes in Florida?
Reggie Brown: We grow tomatoes in Florida because it is a viable business. Florida is the only place in the continental United States where we can produce tomatoes for many months of the year, and because of the fact that we like producing tomatoes and providing American jobs for Americans in America.