Who says tomatoes have to be red?
Under the shady canopy of Tamai Family Farm’s stall at the Wednesday Downtown and Saturday Virginia Avenue Park markets, you can find cherry tomatoes in orange (sungold), red (sweet aztecas) and purple (black cherry).
While cherry tomatoes are technically out of season, the Tamai’s keep their plants producing ten months out of the year in large hoop houses on about 30 acres of land in Camarillo.
“They grow in the ground in soil but become a lot sweeter than the ones in season because it takes them a lot longer to ripen,” said Julia Tamai, who has been helping to sell produce at Santa Monica’s farmers’ markets since she was about ten years old.
The black cherry tomatoes are a rare variety that has the distinct rustic color and buttery flavor of an heirloom tomato. Tamai says this weekend is the perfect time to give one a try.
“They are usually a lot juicer but now that it’s getting cold the skin is getting a little firmer,” Tamai said. “That’s probably the sweetest one right now. It’s reminiscent of a big heirloom tomato.”
Tomatoes are an interesting case study in globalism. The Aztecs were the first to cultivate the tomato and called it ‘tomatl’ near present-day Mexico City. When the Spanish colonized the Americas, they brought the nightshade back to Europe and then all over the world. It took the vines more than a century to make it to British colonies in North America. Thomas Jefferson ate them in Paris and sent some seeds back home, according to the book The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery.
If you’re wondering if it’s a fruit or a vegetable – it’s technically a berry but legally a vegetable in the United States. The Supreme Court declared it so in 1893’s Nix v. Hedden, a case involving differing tariffs on fruits and vegetables. Even though the dictionary declared them a fruit, the justices unanimously agreed that everyone considers them a vegetable, as well as cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas.
Either way, the Tamais grow thousands of the cherry tomatoes every year. Their sungolds taste like candy. The sweet aztecas hit the tomato flavor on the nose. Depending on the weather, they will likely have them until the end of April.
“I usually don’t like the texture of the purple but now that it’s cold they are just perfect,” Tamai said. “They just pop in your mouth.”
No need to cook them. Just eat straight out of the carton.
Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.