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Finding juicy wealth in tomatoes

I came into unexpected wealth this week and I'm a pretty happy person. No, it wasn't free gasoline, though that would have caught my attention, too. This time it's two big bowls of homegrown, sun-ripened, juicy tomatoes.

My daughter-in-law called, saying she and my son were heading out of town for a few days and maybe I'd like to collect tomatoes from their Odessa garden. That offer didn't need think time, so with a stack of plastic bowls I headed a few miles up the road for the tomatoes. Could hardly get there quick enough.

Having grown up in the rural south where tomato sandwiches are highly regarded, I eagerly anticipate them as hot summer days arrive. This year that summer delight is not to be had unless you can find tomatoes that you're confident won't leave you ill from a type of salmonella.

In early June a warning was issued by the Food and Drug Administration advising consumers of a connection between salmonellosis, an uncommon type of salmonella, and raw red plum, red Roma, round red tomatoes, and products containing these raw tomatoes.

An announcement two weeks later cleared a number of states and counties, including Pasco County, saying tomatoes harvested in these areas as well as homegrown tomatoes are not linked to the illness.

By June 28, according to the FDA, nationwide there have been 810 reported cases of the salmonella illness linked to tomatoes. No answers yet as to where it's all starting.

The most recent information can be found at the FDA Web site, http://fda.gov.

Betsy Crisp, Pasco County Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent, is keeping up to date with information.

"Please note that Pasco IS on the 'safe list.' Consumers just need to be aware and ask where the tomatoes come from until FDA can figure out this mystery," Crisp says.

The much publicized scare has left more people than just me sidestepping tomatoes in the grocery store, even though we are told types of tomatoes NOT linked to any illnesses are cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes with the vine still attached.

Many of us are not taking chances. Still, a good garden salad without bright red tomatoes is definitely lacking.

Restaurants are being cautious as are those preparing for banquets and catering. At the recent Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet held at Bethany Center off Van Dyke Road, near North Dale Mabry Highway, the Caesar salad came with half a small tomato. I noticed I wasn't the only one leaving it untouched.

My bowls of tomatoes are dwindling already. Right now, it's easy for this self-declared Chocolate Queen to reach past the candy dish of M&M's and go straight to the tiny little sweet red tomatoes.

With thunder booming and rain pouring, I can pop one of those in my mouth and with a good chomp have the wonderful taste of summer. Absolutely nothing compares, unless it is one of those big palm sized tomatoes cut into thick slices, layered on warm toasted bread, spread with mayonnaise and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Grasping it with both hands, you better be leaning over a sink or counter with plenty of napkins. I've never met anyone who can eat a tomato sandwich without smiling!

My newfound wealth is going to be short lived, like those who win the lottery and blow it all immediately.

The glory for now is eating those deep red tomatoes ripened as only the sun can do — and not worrying about being cautious.

Finding juicy wealth in tomatoes 07/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 11:09am]
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