I know what you’re thinking. It is September and by now you have probably read as many articles on tomatoes, the star child of summer, as you have eaten BLT’s, Caprese salad or heirloom gazpacho.
I get it. Tomato fatigue is a common malady in Kansas City Septembers much like the optimism of a new football season or the hangover of another dreadful year of losing baseball.
But pause for a moment, take a look around, something feels different this year.
The Royals are actually post season contenders and summer produce is similarly making an unlikely stretch relevance into fall. As improbable as those words are — and lets be honest, the Royals and post season contenders are words so rarely associated in my lifetime I have to pause to make sure they are not Latin or Sanskrit — this year is indeed a different September reality in Kansas City.
Mirroring our boys in blue, the summer season was an up and down roller coaster that defied our expectations of what the conventional Kansas City summer is. It started with the green hope of spring, seeing idiosyncratic offerings likemorels and ramps
sharing time with unexpected May snow that dashed summer hopes in much the same way as the Royals’ May losing streak did.
But summer eventually came fashionably late and wearing a light dinner jacket to the seasonal party in the form of mostly mild temperatures and humidity that merely annoyed rather than oppressed.
Like the Royals rounding into form in June and July, the produce came on late with summer all stars like tomatoes, peaches, and corn all arriving in droves.
By August, we had familiar scenes playing out with tables bursting with colorful vegetables and grill fires filling the night alongside more unfamiliar scenes like fireworks dotting the sky as a full Kauffman Stadium swayed to the rhythm of an improbable walk off win.
Everything looked like the typical summer, but something in the air just felt a little different.
The dog days of summer that would normally find you seeking refuge in the comfort of air-conditioned confines or the white noise distraction of Chiefs training camp coverage have been staved off by the long forgotten magic of meaningful September baseball games and locally grown summer gems that arrived late and are staying late.
The baseball season, like the seasons of nature, has a particular beauty in that each one unfolds in a long, slow burn filled with a glorious, blank canvas abstraction between opening day and season’s end.
Every year is different and is thereby imbued with a boundless sense of possibility. We plant the seeds, water and wait with hope that this is the year the whole garden comes together for the bumper crop of a winning season.
For Royals fans, most years have played out like last summer’s growing season showing on an endless, tired old VHS tape loop; seasons with bright spots here and there but ultimately a drought ravaged, barren desert of baseball leaving you beaten down by the hot sun and begging for the mercy of fall.
The Royals are actually very similar to the farmers market versus supermarket paradigm. They have to build from the ground up with that same plant and hope approach. Their success and results are intrinsically tied to the nuances of nature and season.
Tomatoes don’t grow here in December or January, so farmers plant their seeds, water and wait, hoping the yield is a rotund, ripe and juicy Billy Butler-like variety and not the underdeveloped, utterly lacking Angel Berroa-esque spoils of so many Royals past crops.
Sure, you could go the same route as big budget boys like the Yankees and Dodgers, getting factory farmed, out-of-season and flavorless tomatoes at the super market any time of year you like. But that’s not a delicious or sustainable way to shop or eat.
There is something impossibly rewarding to watching and waiting, as a homegrown crop blossoms from seed to star like an heirloom tomato or Alex Gordon. It doesn’t always happen, but when you taste it or see it, you just know. Our years of losing have given us a keen and experienced palate.
Yes, this year is different. There is an uncommon exuberance that lingers on our tables and in the air. Families and friends eat dinner at the table listening to the aging timbre of Denny Matthews voice — well worn with calling countless Royals losses — on the radio in the background.
The most sage advice I can think of is to make the best of the gifts each season gives you. For this year, I say enjoy the home grown bounty of our farms and cheer on the stars of summer as they extend the season to new lengths playing ball deep into fall.The Slow Roast Tomato
This is a recipe designed to enhance and preserve the life of a fresh tomato. Similar to theroasted eggplant
it is a method of preparing an ingredient that can then be used in a multitude of dishes from salads, soups and pastas to pizza and sandwiches. This is a recipe best suited to Romas or other smaller, not as ripe, fleshier tomatoes. If using cherry tomatoes, decrease cooking time by 30 minutes. Once prepared this way, you can coat with a bit of good olive oil and pack in airtight containers to store in the freezer for those days when the joys of tomato season are but a distant memory, like the sounds of a long line drive off the bat of Eric Hosmer.2 pounds of Roma tomatoes or a similar smaller variety, halved 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon sea salt
Optional flavor additions: a bundle of thyme, a few sprigs of rosemary, a splash of good vinegar or wine, ground black pepper or red chile flakes
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut tomatoes in half and put into mixing bowl. Drizzle olive oil and salt over and gently toss to coat. The salt and the tossing will release some moisture from the tomatoes, which helps coat them and concentrates flavor during the roasting process. Spread the tomatoes onto a baking sheet, cut side up, and put into the middle rack of the oven. Check on them after about an hour and a half. The concentration of moisture will vary depending on the tomato, but you can remove and cool or put them back in for another 30 to 45 minutes to if a drier, more concentrated texture is desired.
Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.