(Editor's note: Back by popular demand, one of the classics from the Paul Greenberg collection. This column first appeared July 12, 2006.)
The other lucky day, a new friend brought by a lug of the most beautiful tomatoes I've ever seen. Of course I tend to say that about Bradley County pinks every season. But these weren't just pinks but Amelias--the big, red, luscious, well-rounded tomatoes they grow in Bradley County mainly for export. The kind that'd be perfect on a magazine cover.
Amelias are for selling, Bradleys for eating. Bradleys are for friends and family and the favored few. The cognoscenti. To the knowing, there are few prettier things on this ever fecund Earth than a really big, ugly Bradley County pink.
Thank you, new and generous friend. Both varieties are the kind of tomatoes you can't help but want to share. So thanks also from the rest of us on the editorial and Voices pages, and a lucky recipient or two I was passing by on my way out of the building, including the ex-submariner who's now one of our ever-vigilant security guards.
That's how tomatoes like these prize specimens go--fast. What a treasure. Out in the parking lot, I feel as though I really should be accompanied by a Brinks guard.
My new and thoughtful friend had arranged the tomatoes in two layers--with the Amelias on top and the Bradleys on the bottom for purposes of comparison. I've been to wine-tastings, which were all right, and Scotch tastings, which are wonderful, so how come they don't have tomato tastings?
Or do they, and I've just missed out? They certainly should. The Bradley County pinks would blow away anybody with taste buds. We might finally get the word out to the rest of the world, and maybe rescue the economy of Southeast Arkansas in the process.
Who wouldn't be happy to buy a lug of Bradley County pinks after holding one of these ugly beauties, feeling their heft, enjoying the aroma, biting into the distinctive, juicy, perfect taste?
It may have been Mark Twain who asserted that the fruit Eve ate in the Garden couldn't have been a tomato for she repented of it. And he may never even have tasted a Bradley County pink, the very platonic ideal of tomato-ness.
In a note appended to the box, my new and fairminded friend recommends the Amelias, too: "They slice beautifully (great for BLTs, burgers, salsa, etc.) and they look lovely on a plate." But he reserves his real enthusiasm for the Bradleys, noting that, as with Crackerjacks, the prize is at the bottom of the box.
As is well known in these parts, the Bradleys have the power to move men to poetry. "A Bradley," my friend and benefactor points out, "represents one of Nature's ironies in that it is so ugly on the outside, but tastes so good on the inside.''
It seems Providence has reserved this species of perfection for Bradley County, Ark., and immediate environs. "Despite many valiant attempts," my new and observant friend points out, "there has never really been a totally successful effort to capture the flavor of the Bradley in a tomato that was round, smooth and pretty.''
"You won't miss the Bradley's only attractive outer feature,'' my guide to the tomato kingdom adds ever so tactfully. "You will see how the red is more like the color of a plum. It is easy to understand how the ripening Bradley gave rise to the term 'pink tomato.' " He points out that the texture is unique, too, or close to it.
Yet the Bradley County Pink long ago lost market share to that hussy, the Amelia, which should not be confused with those soft red rubber balls sold in any supermarket. Those genetically engineered simulacra are gassed to an obscene crimson and sold under the good name of tomato. Amelias, it should be noted, are actually good and tasty--also juicy and a thing of beauty for an evening. But they lack the Bradley's fresh, pink, distinctive tang.
In another example of Gresham's Law in awful action, the best of tomatoes has been reduced to a rarity smuggled out of Warren, Ark., by folks who just can't keep a good thing to themselves, thank goodness.
It says something about how poor in taste this rich country is that the Bradley County pink should be almost a secret outside of Southeast Arkansas.
The lug of tomatoes a good deal lighter by now, I drive home with visions of a perfect salad dancing in my hungry mind. It'll star one of the Amelias, for it would be a sacrilege to chop up a Bradley County pink in a Third World, Sweep the Kitchen salad featuring lettuce, cheese, grilled chicken, banana slices, raisins, sugar-snap peas, and peanuts. Sprinkled with delicate herbs dabbed with a little oil and vinegar, the salad will be ready to serve with tortilla chips and a Carta Blanca on the side. Olé!
But even this late in the season, each Bradley deserves to be a simple solo act, or maybe served up on slightly toasted wheat bread, with just a suspicion of coarse salt, or a hint of olive oil, and maybe a chunk of sharp cheddar for contrast ... . Mmmm.
Paul Greenberg is the retired editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Editorial on 07/10/2019
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