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The tomatoes in the fruit bowl

One of the joys of visiting southern Europe - or even a country which is partly in southern Europe, like France - is buying and eating tomatoes which have been grown for flavour rather than appearance and which are actually ripe.

The neatly spherical, uniformly crimson, evenly sized and usually tasteless things we get from the Canary Islands and Holland are fine for purely decorative purposes, but when it comes to eating you canít beat the great knobbly tomatoes you find in France and Italy. Fortunately our supermarkets are beginning to sell tomatoes which taste of something other than water, citric acid and fructose (natural fruit sugar), but it is in the nature of industrial-scale importing and distribution that they are picked unripe. Nevertheless, it pays to keep your eyes open for anything new on the shelves and to try any promising new tomatoes.

Having said that, Marks and Spencersí Ďslicing tomatoesí, sold neatly packed in pairs for about a pound, are large and fairly tasty. Sliced horizontally they make something that actually looks like a French tomato salad, with that wonderfully intricate lace Pattern.

One thing is for sure: keeping tomatoes in the salad crisper at the bottom of my fridge (well, they are salad vegetables, arenít they?) doesnít make them any riper: they manage to make the transition from hard and unripe to soft and mouldy without ever passing through the stage of ripeness.

The answer to my query is, of course, no: tomatoes are fruit - savoury fruit, I grant you, but still fruit rather than vegetables. Do you keep your apples, pears, bananas and oranges in the fridge? (I hope not, because if you do my whole argument is about to collapse.) The fact is that if the fridge was the place for fruit, it would have a built-in fruit bowl as well as a built-in salad crisper, and there wouldnít be such things as fruit bowls designed to be kept on tables.

Anyway, the purpose of all this is to tell you that, for me, the penny has finally dropped. Theorem: fruit ripens in my fruit bowl; tomatoes are fruit; therefore tomatoes will ripen in my fruit bowl.

Proof: I tried it; they did. QED.

Ripening fruits give off a gas - acetaldehyde, I think, which sounds synthetic but isnít. Conveniently, this gas encourages other fruit to ripen, so if you put unripe fruit in the bowl with nearly-ripe fruit, the unripe fruit will ripen faster. Ripening, if you like, is contagious - but be carful, because so is rotting!

Bananas, particularly when they are fully yellow and beginning to go brown, give off masses of acetaldehyde, so I leave the inevitable blackening banana thatís always there at the end of the week in the bowl for as long as I dare to help my tomatoes ripen.

There is a spin-off to this radical new way of storing tomatoes: unless you refrigerate them before serving, they are eaten at room temperature, which liberates whatever flavour they have.

Good. Now we have the essential ingredient of a tomato salad...

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.