The soups and stews I’ve made this winter have been especially good. The broth, which is almost always tomato-based because I’m vegan and I use tomatoes the way other people use meat, has tasted about ten times better than it has any other year.
At first I thought that maybe I had, out of the blue and with no warning, become an amazing chef. I figured maybe I’d gotten some kind of cooking super power, and suddenly I was Amazing Crockpot Woman.
The flaw with that thinking is that, when it comes right down to it, I haven't really changed the way I cook. I mostly chop up any vegetables I have, toss everything into a pot, and then add random spices.
Then I figured it out.
It’s not me, it’s the tomatoes.
Other years, I’ve used cans of store-bought tomatoes for the basis of soup or stew. I’ve been known to buy cases of them at the wholesale club.
But last August, when the CSA farm near me had piles of tomatoes that had gotten ripe all at once, I bought extra tomatoes and froze them. It seemed a shame to let all those beautiful tomatoes go to waste, and I liked the idea of eating food that grew within five miles of my house. My freezer was empty, because it had broken in July and I’d had to throw everything out before we finally got it fixed.
On that hot summer night, I stayed up late chopping tomatoes and boiling them down. I did it several weeks in a row, until I had lots of frozen blocks of tomatoes stacked neatly in my freezer. I wondered if it would be worth the effort — after all, canned tomatoes aren’t very expensive — but it felt satisfying to put food away for the winter. I got obsessed with filling the freezer. I felt like Laura Ingalls.
What I didn’t realize was that the tomatoes would taste about ten times better than the store-bought canned ones. I guess I should have thought of that, but it honestly came as a surprise. And it’s such a difference that now I’m spoiled. Just like I won’t buy tomatoes in the store this time of year – because ugh, they taste like nothing – I can’t imagine ever going back to the tasteless store tomatoes.
Remind me of that next August.