Creole Red June 24, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in food, Louisiana, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Creole tomato, terroir
In other parts of the world they dream of watermelons in August, and the home-grown tomatoes of Guy Clark’s famous song are just beginning to get spots of pink. Here we dream of Creole tomatoes, grown in the particular alluvial soil at the river’s lower reaches, and they come in June. I have grown my own tomatoes in places as far north as North Dakota, and yes the flavor of a vine fresh tomato is amazing, but it falls short of the particular savor of the Louisiana Creole. There is a certain minerality like that of of certain wines, a flavor imported by what old-world vintners call terroir. Unlike wine, where the experts say minerality is a lack of fruitiness and has absolutely nothing to do with the soil in which the grapes are grown, there is clearly a particular flavor imparted to tomatoes grown in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish, which surround the lowest reaches of the river. The tomatoey fruityness is extraordinary, but there is something else just underneath that, a crystalline mystery that I can only describe this way: if ice had a flavor, it would be that note under the fruit of the Creole tomato.
I live for this season, will paper the cabinets over the kitchen with grower’s stickers until my landlord has a fit. Like a prisoner counting his days to release, I am counting how many Creole tomatoes I can manage before the season is run. Bagels with a tomato for breakfast, sandwiches in which meat and cheese are reduced to a garnish and my usual heavy hand with the course Creole mustard holds itself to just the slightest schmear. For a snack, a Creole with just a bit of salt is the finest piece of fruit you will ever eat For dinner I just ate a bowl of nothing but cut up Creole’s and (sadly, store-bought) cucumbers. I hadn’t finished it when a friend popped up on Facebook asking “who wants some garden cucumbers”. Oh, me, me! And careful how you dress them. Vinaigrette is ideal but don’t go overboard. You don’t want some tarted up Balsamic getting between you and your tomatoes. After cruising the aisles of the neighborhood grocery not a single one of the fancier bottled Vinaigrette contained olive oil. I’m clearly going to have to whip up my own dressing. A simple white wine vinegar, good olive oil, a good grind of my five-pepper store blend and a bit of the Grains of Paradise my sister found me. A bit of salt. Nothing more, really. Maybe a bit of garlic if we’re going to call it vinaigrette but as much as I am likely to pop a whole clove into my mouth like a piece of candy, here we are all about the tomatoes. Even the cucumbers are mostly there for texture, although I find their own mild fruitiness perfectly complements the Creoles.
There are a lot of things to miss if you live away from New Orleans–Carnival, the music, the unique cooking, the go cups–but nothing could bring tears to my eyes faster than Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans than slicing into the priciest hydroponic or even my own home grown Dakota tomatoes, and recognizing immediately that there is no substitute for a real Creole. Someday they will be gone. St. Bernard and Plaquemines are vanishing into the Gulf of Mexico at a frightening rate, the rich soil that flavors the Creoles pouring over the continental shelf as the levee-ed off terroir slowly subsides back into the sea. All the more reason, now that my dinner is done, to think about dessert: just one more thick slice, no salt, no oil, no vinegar; just the pure fruit of the finest tomato on earth.