Big Rain Last Night

Which isn’t a good thing for tomatoes. I’ve never been much of a gardener, mind you. However I do know an authority when I see one: a little old Chinese lady I shop next to most Saturday mornings. This last week we were both salivating over pint containers of positively perfect little pear tomatoes. I hesitated for a moment, which gave her the opening she needed to sweep the best of them off the farmer’s table and into her bag. She glanced up at me unapologetically.

Buy now, she said.

Why? I asked.

Rain this week no good.

Oh right. I knew that. Wait…huh? I’d heard from gardeners last year about wet summer molds, but always assumed a good drenching rain every now and again was good for everybody. Not so, I learned from a tomato grower in the next stall. For tomato plants are greedy for water. So much so that they’ll slurp up every last drop they can lay their roots on, and store it in the fruit.

Yes, good you might say. But no that’s not good, since the effect is to bloat the tomatoes with water, diluting the flavor in the flesh. In fact it’s summers like the one we’ve been having here in Louisville (long hot and dry) that produce the best fruit. Lots of rain makes tomatoes bland and mealy and invites mold and cracks, for the fruit will soak up water to the point that it pops right out of its skin.

Hence the value of climates like Sicily, Turkey, parts of China and the eastern US, which offer tomato plants plenty of spring rain, followed by months of meager sprinklings. Turns out tomatoes, just like wine grapes (and many humans) are at the best when under stress.

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