For months now, I've been hearing raves about the Uglyripe...a winter tomato, banned from being distributed from it's birthplace in Florida to the rest of us yearning for real tomato flavor in these coldest months, simply because it was too ugly. I had never even heard of this "ugly-duckling" tomato until I read an article about it in Gourmet magazine, stating that it had the look of a "sunburned Ruebens derriere." Appetizing, no? But the article also stated that the taste of this particular derriere was worth the price ($4.99/lb in their story) to enjoy the juicy-sweet drippings of a "tomato that tastes like a tomato" in the wintertime.
Now, I don't know about the rest of you, and I would guess that most of you are on par with the taste, texture, and look of heirloom tomatoes, but I don't think the Uglyripe is ugly at all! In fact, I think it's gorgeous. First of all, it's actually red...not to say that there aren't beautiful heirloom varieties that abound in yellows, greens, oranges and shades of pink, but boy do I hate the round pink baseballs you can get in stores this time of year...especially when I know that they could be red; if they were not picked green, pickled with loads of ethylene gas, then shipped far and wide for you and I to "enjoy." But, just LOOK at those voluptuous curves! For those of you that have been reading my blog for a while, you know I grew up on a farm eating tomatoes we hand-picked from the garden, sun-kissed, juicy, and ripened by nature only. You also know my sheer love of this beautiful red fruit - because a good sun-ripened tomato has a flavor unlike anything else on Earth... which sad as it is, has turned me into a bonafide tomato snob.
So imagine my surprise while browsing a local market this weekend for a decent, but cheap, frozen dinner, when I caught sight of this beautiful crimson specimen of an Uglyripe tomato. Now, I know what you're thinking, but if you had to be in our kitchen, in our house with NO heat (while your dumb boyfriend chose this particular weekend of "record LOW temperatures" to go interveiw for jobs in Hawaii), and it's colder inside the house than it is outside coating the car and the ground with frost that doesn't get warmed up enough to melt during the day; you'd be hiding under an electric blanket and not wanting to cook either; just like moi!
I have no idea how these Uglyripes got here, to Eugene, because all of the information I can find about them is from the controversy last year about how the Florida Tomato Commission wouldn't allow them out of the state because they simply had too hideous a visage for consumers. But, nonetheless, here they were...at $2.69/lb! And what's even better than finding yourself a regular 'ol Uglyripe? A certified organic one at $2.69/lb!
So, of course, I just had to buy one. I had to see what all the hype was about. Was this gorgeous tomato just a prude? Taunting us with her well-endowed curves and bright red summer color, yet holding out on taste? ...Was she really just a tease? ...all the while tasting like mealy cardboard on the inside? Regardless, she was a pretty sight for these winter tomato-sore eyes. I took her home, nestled in her own little sack to keep her safe, and waited until the following day when the light came out and I could get a good picture for ya'll (Yep - altruism at it's finest...I put aside my lavish tomato-eating lust just so that I could take a decent picture to share with you...awwww....).
Now, being a good scientist, I needed a Control for this experiment. Since I just can't bring myself to eat completely shitty tomotoes from the grocery store in the wintertime, the only ones that I will buy on occasion are the organic vine-ripened ones that cost $5.99/lb. (YOUCH! Now, I'm a little concerned that these fancy Uglyripes are so cheap, but you're not supposed to look a gifthorse in the mouth, right?) These tomatoes still don't taste very good, but sometimes, even a tomato snob gets desparate for a tomato...not very often, mind you, but sometimes. So out came my altruistic nature once again; I broke down and bought one (as you simply must have a Control for any experiment).
I scored each of the tomatoes on a scale of 1-5 (5 being highest; 1 being lowest), so here is the data for The Uglyripe Experiment:
First of all, Color. The Uglyripe scored high in this department - I just think it's so pretty! The vine-ripened tomatoes tend also to be much nicer looking than the pink baseballs next to them in the bin, although I am partial to the curves of the Uglyripe compared to the little perfect spheres that make up the Control tomato variety...because at least in my experience, it's pretty un-natural to get a perfectly round tomato. This is just personal preference, of course, but since I'm the one doing the experiment... Score: CONTROL - 3; UGLYRIPE - 5
Texture. The Uglyripe had a good texture. It gave in all the right places, was firm, yet yeilding. Lucky for the Control tomato, it didn't do so bad in this department either. Score: CONTROL - 5 ; UGLYRIPE - 5
When I cut into the Uglyripe, the juice came shooting out - but not too much (also good). The Control tomato looked a little mealy, as opposed to juicy, but it wasn't as bad as some I've seen, so I gave it a decent score. Score: CONTROL - 3; UGLYRIPE - 4
Now, came the Taste test; the most important. First, the Control... to get my palette aware of what it should be comparing. A bit of salt to bring out the flavor, a big swallow of anticipation, I opened my mouth, shoved it in, and...almost tasteless. It didn't taste like anything. No sun-love here; no burst of juicy goodness... nothing at all, just BLAH. Slick and smooth...but sticking to the sides of my mouth and tongue as I mashed it up in there. Reminding myself that this was for the good of all, I swallowed the red goopy mess and took a swig of water to wash the carboard down. Ew.
Now armed with something to compare the Uglyripe to, I cut myself off a slice, sprinkled a bit of salt on the flesh, and took my first timid bite.
Chew...chew...and then it hit me. It didn't taste good at all! It actually had kind of a sour tang to it, but that was the only noticeable flavor! No gush of rich, complex flavor - sweet from the sugars held in by the sun. I felt cheated, failed, hurt. The rest of this poor Uglyripe is now sitting in my fridge - waiting to be cooked into some future dish, cuz I'm sure as heck not going to eat it by itself again. Score: CONTROL - 1; UGLYRIPE - 2.
Now, perhaps my expectations were too high. Can one really expect a winter tomato to taste anything like the memories of a summer tomato? Or years of expectations built up from eating them out of my mother's garden, picked by her hands, and sliced with love? To be fair, I can say that on those few days during the winter where I just want a slice of a friggin' tomato on my sandwhich or I just don't feel like thawing out the roasted tomatoes I've stored away or opening a jar from our stock of home-canned heirlooms tomatoes or if I can't stand the thought of opening another can from the store (a very viable option, because at least these are canned when their flavor is still in tact) - I'd probably spend the $2.69/lb (cheap, comparatively) and buy myself a winter Ugly.
If I was a really good scientist (which I'm not or I probably would be working and not blogging right now), I would have bought more than a single Uglyripe and a few vine-ripened specimens for comparison...since we know that one must repeat ones experiments before making any solid conclusions. Well, this scientist is a poor grad student scientist, and she just didn't want to spend all of her meager savings on less-than-delicious tomatoes. So, until summer, I think I'll still be getting my tomatoes from a can.
CONTROL - 12/20;
UGLYRIPE - 16/20;
Cardboard from the box my BBM4 presents came in - 20/20;
First taste of a summer tomato after a winter of waiting - PRICELESS.
written by Michelle at 11:07 AM