August 12, 2006
Can a tomato change your life? — On attending a tomato tasting at Capay Organic farm
Look at the photo above: what do you see?
Catherine Price recently attended what may well have been the world's first formal tomato tasting (up top, the array of tomatoes soon to be sampled by the judges), organized by Ann C. Noble, world-famous (at least in wine circles) for having created the Wine Aroma Wheel.
Price's story appeared in the August 2 New York Times Dining Out section, and follows.
- At a Tomato Tasting, Notes of Pond and Paint
ON Saturday evening on the lawn at the Capay Organic farm, 90 miles north of San Francisco, Ann C. Noble addressed about 100 people gathered around tables bearing glasses of red slurry.
“Write down whatever comes to mind, even if it sounds ridiculous,” said Ms. Noble, a food scientist. “We don’t have words for tomatoes yet.”
Ms. Noble, best known for creating the Wine Aroma Wheel, a brightly colored disc with aromatic descriptions to help people characterize wines, was trying to develop a similar vocabulary in the first sensory evaluation of heirloom tomatoes.
Volunteers diced and ladled five heirloom varieties into wine glasses (leaving room for headspace so the tomatoes could breathe, of course). A petri dish topped each glass to capture the tomatoes’ fleeting scent.
Ms. Noble, professor emerita at the University of California, Davis, said the rules were simple. Close your eyes. Don’t talk. Turn off the background music. Smell before you taste. Each tester was given a comment sheet that included suggestions from Ms. Noble for tasting notes, like melon, apple, cinnamon, coffee and pumpkin.
“With the first one you’re likely to say, ‘Oh God, it smells like a tomato — how will I kill the next half hour?’ ” she said. “But that’s O.K. It takes time. And just think — you might come up with the perfect word no one has ever used to describe that note.”
With that, she set the tasters free.
They swarmed around the tables, dipping noses deep into glasses, swirling the tomato slurries as if they were wine. Comments were whispered: “vanilla.” “Carrot.” “This is like broccoli.” “This one’s more green.”
Thaddeus Barsotti, the operations manager of Capay Organic, said he came up with the idea for the tasting because he was frustrated at not knowing how to describe his tomatoes when people asked him about them at the farmer’s market.
“I thought it’d be cool,’’ he said, “to take tomatoes and put them in front of people and say, ‘How does this taste to you?’ ”
As it turned out, there are a lot of ways to characterize a tomato. One, later revealed as a Brandywine, received some of the sharpest descriptions, like a “musty” odor reminiscent of “smelly feet.” (A more forgiving participant described it as “ripe, like chocolate.”) Ms. Noble asserted that it smelled “like Fritos.”
“It does,” she said, as her companions raised their glasses to take a whiff. “It’s like just-fried potato chips.”
Some notes said as much about the person writing them as they did about the tomato. “My grandmother’s Avon bath powder,” wrote one person about No. 5 (Yellow Brandywine). No. 4 — Evergreen — was described as “acrylic paint on muslin,” “milkweed pod,” “peeled bark of willow,” “stagnant pond,” and “like jeans you’ve been playing football in on the grass.”
The tasting was organized by the farm and the Yolo County chapter of the organization Slow Food.
Several guests complained that the night’s tomato bounty wasn’t quite ripe enough; a rainy March had delayed planting, and the tomatoes were not as luscious as they had hoped. But that didn’t stop people from eating them.
“I think there’s something addictive about tomatoes. I mean, they’re in the tobacco family,” said Trini Campbell, an owner of Riverdog Farm nearby.
Addictive or not, it seems unlikely that tomato tastings will take off in the way wine tastings have.
“The rate-limiting variable in tomatoes is the range of flavor,” said Ms. Noble. “It’s kind of like we’re just tasting pinots.”
But Georgeanne Brennan, a leader of the Slow Food chapter who coordinated the event, still hopes for more.
“They’ll never look at tomatoes the same way again,” she said of the night’s guests. “Their lives will have been changed.”
Ann C. Noble's Wine Aroma Wheel costs $6 here.
iConnect Speaker Pillow
Superb: no batteries or power required.
How'd they do that?
From the website:
- I-Connect™ Speaker Pillow
Just plug into your favorite music player — pillow needs no power or batteries.
Squishy pillow with a built-in speaker adds some style to your tunes.
Adapts to CD players, MP3s, DVDs, laptops and more.
Pillow measures 12" in diameter.
Features volume control.
3.5mm headphone jack.
100% polyester shell.
Ages 6 and up.
Great news, above: almost all my readers can safely use this pillow.
Just named Official Speaker Pillow of bookofjoe.
$9.99 (iPod not included).
[jvia Marianne Rohrlich's "Personal Shopper" feature in yesterday's New York Times]
Note: The Rhode Island red version pictured above was featured in the Times story but appears to be sold out.
Looks like you're just gonna have to come on over to the green side.
LibraryThing — 'Catalog your books online'
A most interesting website for bibliophiles and others passionate about the written word.
As well as people who just want something to do.
Designed by Matt Clark for Umbra.
From the website:
- Mystic Wall Clock
The frosted glass face reveals elaborate Victorian hands on this extra-large glass and spun aluminum wall clock.
23.5" dia x 2.25" (60 cm dia x 6 cm).
Official wall clock of Van Morrison.
$165 (time not included).
[via Stephen Treffinger's "Currents" feature in yesterday's New York Times]
Star Wars Complete — in 20 Minutes
Tell you what: they're gonna be moving at warp speed to get it all in.
Lucas has given permission to the Reduced Shakespeare Company — which raced through the "Complete Works of Shakespeare" in 97 minutes — to condense his 13-hour-long epic into a 20-minute show, to be performed next Thursday, August 17, at the Criterion Theater in London.
Can't make it?
The performance, entitled "Star Wars — Shortened," written, directed and performed by Adam Long with two other actors, will be filmed for Sky Movies.
Watch for it, coming soon to a DVD near you.
[via Lawrence Van Gelder's "Arts, Briefly" feature in yesterday's the New York Times]
Grill-O-Sheet — 'With a name like that, it has to be good'
From the website:
This barbecue essential gives you a clean cooking surface and keeps burgers, hot dogs and ribs from falling through grates.
18" long x 12" wide.
Fits most grills.
Two for $5.99 (salmon filets not included).
Explosive — Exclusive Shot of boj World Headquarters™!
How the photographer got through security is beyond me but you can bet your bottom one hundred English pounds it won't ever happen again.
Hands-Free Dog Leash
Face it: walking the dog isn't what it used to be.
What with your BlackBerry going off every five minutes, your cellphone and people screaming at you to keep your dog off their grass, it can get intense.
Now there's relief.
From the website:
- Hip Hugger™ Multi-Use Leash
The Hip Hugger™ multi-function retractable leash extends to 16 feet.
It attaches to your waist with the included sport belt so you can walk your pet hands-free while you push a baby stroller, jog or just go for a walk.
Also includes a 6' leash for those times you don't need the retractable feature.
Plastic with sturdy nylon web belt and leash.
For those of you without a dog, don't fret: you can still buy one.
Ask for the "Hands-Free Dog-Free" version.
Costs a little more but hey, like the girl in the L'Oréal commercial always says, "I'm [substitute You're] worth it."