The Best Tomatoes NOT Grown in the Shadow of Mount Vesuvius
A Cheffzilla story…
Before the turn of the (21st) century–truth be told–just about the only people who know about San Marzano tomatoes lived in the region in Italy, or were European-trained chefs, were one of handful of American chefs who had been to the region, or worked in the kitchen at my beloved Epicure Market on South Beach. Let’s face it, the “legendary” San Marzano tomato was a virtual unknown here in the US. Then, about 15 years ago, its fame and story became one of the “newest” trends in American cooking. People discovered this amazing tomato variety. The major tomato growers in the US began importing seeds or the tomatoes themselves and harvesting the seeds, and started selling the product as authentic, even though anyone who actually knew of the tomatoes knew better. The growers in this tiny region of southern Italy filed all sorts of lawsuits and attempted to patent and copyright the name, only to be hoo-hahed by the agro-industrial complex.
Because of my experience in South Florida, I knew of this amazing fruit, because the owners of the gourmet store imported these beauties any way they could–fresh, frozen, or canned. Now because I have known about San Marzanos almost forever, I decided that I would try to grow them myself in my garden here in the fertile soil of Lancaster County. I’ve been growing them for seven or eight years now.
Now, anyone who knows the origin story of these amazing tomatoes know that their special magic–the thing that makes them the most delicious and sought-after tomatoes in the world–knows that what sets these tomatoes apart has to do with the volcanic-ashen soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy. Those grown in the US may come from the same (or harvested) seeds, but they don’t have the same incredible flavor of the originals.
I won’t pretend that my San Marzanos are anywhere near as tasty as the Italian-grown variety, but I do know that they are a darn sight better tasting than any other tomatoes I’ve ever used.
And so I grow my own.
This year I tried something a little different, just as an experiment. In addition to the normal care and feeding of my tomato garden, into the soil where the San Marzano plant (only one) was to grow, I sowed a bucket full of wood ash from our back-patio fire pit.
In my admittedly unscientific experiment, my San Marzano plant gave me a surprise: nearly four times the number of tomatoes, and of such amazing size that some of them were as large as my fist. So far, as of October 1 I have harvested and roasted more than 30 pounds of these wonderful tomatoes–twice what any of my other plants produced. And that is cooked weight–I roast, peel, and freeze my tomatoes, so that I have them to use all winter–tomatoes from my garden in February is a special treat, especially when they are these amazing San Marzano-variety tomatoes. Just today I roasted up four pounds (cooked weight) and I’ve been doing this every weekend since they first started to ripen more than a month ago.
If only I could travel ot Sicily to get some seeds, so that I could say the tomatoes came from San Marzano.