Book Review: The Heirloom Tomato
From Garden to Table, By Amy Goldman
Since I don't have a garden, my favorite thing about The Heirloom Tomato From Garden to Table (Bloomsbury, $35.00, hardcover with color photographs), by Amy Goldman, is Victor Schrager's photography. Gazing first at the stunning cover and then at the images that continue throught the book -- you can almost smell the summer perfume of a just-picked tomato.
Despite having recipes, The Heirloom Tomato is more about an ingredient than how to cook with it. But if you do have a vegetable garden -- or a city balcony or fire escape for container gardening -- and want to grow tomatoes, this book could be mandatory reading.
Ms. Goldman describes herself as a "passionate gardener and seed saver" and the result of that passion is a resourceful inventory of 200 kinds of tomatoes, organized into 8 categories:
- Pear and Plum
- Color Groups
For each there are growing details: size, weight, shape, colors, flavor, texture, best uses and lots of seed information. And oh, those photographs.
Photographer Schrager, whose work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and Paris's Musée Européenne de la Photographie, has captured his subjects as alluring portraits. Many are sensuous still lifes, presenting a single tomato or a cluster of small cherry globes in studied arrangements, but he does so without any preciousness and without ever losing the tomatoes' natural appetite appeal.
The book contains 50 recipes that were mostly developed for this text by Eve Felder, a dean at the Culinary Institute of America. While some of the recipes make inventive use of tomatoes -- in soups, main dishes, snacks and sandwiches, accompaniments, desserts and drinks -- the recipes that have the most appeal are those few that came from the author. Throughout the book, Ms. Goldman harkens back to a marinara sauce that her parents would make in their grocery store, but it's not in this recipe collection. Instead she had Felder replicate a favorite restaurant sauce. After reading the book I had been craving a taste of her parent's version so this was a disappointment.
A final sign that this book is really about the growing and not the cooking of tomatoes is that it has a highly detailed section on seed sources, horticultural advocacy groups, a bibliography and variety index, but not any recipe or ingredient index which is a basic element of any cookbook.
If you are seeking a cookbook to make the most of an end-of-summer bounty of local tomatoes, you will find this book frustrating for its limitations. But for anyone who is a novice or a master in tomato gardening or who wants to know more about this favorite food, you will treasure the gorgeous single-mindedness of this volume.