COL A cryogenic shame that the tomato is left to languish

The people who want to thaw out Ted Williams someday and bring him back to life like a cake of yeast should redirect their talents. They should start trying to figure out how to preserve tomatoes without making them mushy.

We are in the middle of the tomato harvest season here in these parts, and I am in produce heaven. To me, there is no better tasting vegetable on the planet than a fresh-picked Better Boy or Early Girl.

Nothing is more delectable than a thick, fleshy slice of tomato drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. No gardening experience is more fulfilling than to stand in the middle of a tomato patch, pick a baseball-size beefsteak, wipe the dirt away and bite into it like an apple, the juice dripping down my cheeks.

Right now, these tasty crimson orbs are cheap and in abundance. They are being sold by the hundreds in grocery stores, food co-ops and farmers' markets. Sacksful are being placed on breakroom tables, free for the taking. They are ripening on windowsills, kitchen counters and in brown paper bags in the basement.

But in a few weeks, tomatoes -- real tomatoes, not the ones from California and Argentina that taste like wallboard -- will disappear. Gone to juice and spaghetti sauce.


That's because, unlike apples, tomatoes don't last long after they're picked. Oh sure, you can peel them and boil them and put them in a jar for safekeeping. But the difference between a canned tomato and a fresh one is sort of like the difference between actually visiting the ocean and wearing Sea Breeze cologne.

Some cooks freeze tomatoes in an effort to preserve that deep, earthy taste. It doesn't work. They get spongy and bland. Others dry slices of tomatoes and save them for our long, produce-deprived winters. But tomato jerky becomes tomato goop when rehydrated.

No, we need the help of those men and women of science who are engaged in the useless practice of flash freezing and ziplocking humans. We need to persuade them to focus on the more promising endeavor of preserving tomatoes from one picking season to the next.

Is there a food more worthy of long-term preservation in its fresh-picked form? I think not. It is, I would argue, the most highly revered vegetable in the nation. This fruit of the vine is so important, in fact, that it was once the focus of a case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is a true story. In 1883, the United States passed a tariff act that, among other things, required those who imported vegetables to pay a 10 percent tax. Fruit, on the other hand, could be imported duty free.

You can see where this was headed. An importer named John Nix, in an effort to save a buck, argued that tomatoes he brought into the country from the West Indies were fruit, not vegetables, and therefore should be exempt from the tax.

Nix sued. He contended that botanists consider the tomato a fruit because it is, essentially, a seed-bearing ovary just like an apple or plum.

Thank goodness for those wise, gray-headed sages who sit on the highest court in the land. They ruled that -- ovaries aside -- tomatoes are vegetables. Plain and simple. "Botanically, tomatoes are considered a fruit of the vine, just as cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas," the court's ruling states. "But in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables …"


; Any vegetable that warrants the attention of the highest court in the land must surely be worthy of attention from scientists interested in flesh preservation.

Please, cryonics experts, change your focus. "Austin Powers" is just a movie. Those unfortunate folks you have frozen like fish sticks in your lab will never walk again, baby. Much less hit .400.

Turn to the tomato. There will be no custody battles, and you'll make a lot of soup and salad lovers very happy.

Greg Sellnow's columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 285-7703 or by e-mail at

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