Call It Creole And It'll Sell

It's Creole tomato season, and boy are they delicious!

The Creoles of my childhood were ugly and deformed, split to the point of bursting. Picked the day they went to market or set on the windowsill to wait for whichever meal came next — that’s what these tomatoes were good at. Creole tomatoes should be eaten warm, right off the plant, a thing I still look forward to like a child. I’m not saying that I don’t love herbs and fancy cheeses, but a good ol’ ripe Creole doesn’t need any help; it just needs to be eaten.

The Creoles of my childhood were all grown in the St. Bernard or Plaquemines parishes, which flank the Mississippi south of New Orleans pretty much all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. That fertile farmland was formed by hundreds of years of rich silt deposits that the mighty Mississippi brought downstream. Cattle, a gift from the king of Spain, and brought here in 1779 by the Isleños, or Canary Islanders, once grazed on these same lands. Descendants of the Isleños still grow many of our Creoles today. This rich soil, with its low acidity, makes our tomatoes particularly sweet tasting; our moderate climate gives us a gloriously long growing season.

Much mystique surrounds the identity of the famed Creole tomato. Turns out it is not so much a variety as an idea of a tomato, evoking a memory of the field-picked, just-ripe tomatoes of our childhood, before hybrids and industrial farming took the flavor away. Experts say the definition comes down to geography: any red, ripe tomato grown in the state of Louisiana, but most often in the southeast in the parishes along the Mississippi, can be deemed a Creole. It can be grown from any seed variety, such as the Celebrity, favored by Jim Core, or those newer, hardier varieties, like Amelia and Christa. Historically, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes were tomato central, but following Hurricane Katrina the area shrank to the upper Plaquemines.

Today, more than 250 growers cultivate the almost 500 acres of Louisiana that are dedicated to this buxom fruit so fundamental to Creole cooking. The crops are mostly sold locally at wholesale warehouses, farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and supermarkets, and there is rarely enough of a surplus to cause a Creole ever to head out of state. Nowadays, some of us feel that the Creole is looking a little too pretty and uniform, but in general locals will tell you with pride that a Creole tastes the way a real tomato should.
Posted: 1/4/2017 11:56:14 AM by Chef John Doe | with 0 comments

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