Tomato season is upon us! In our garden, we plant easy-to-pick-and-eat cherries in all colors of the rainbow, and then watch for heirlooms to creep in around the margins (this year, we have grow-back green zebras, my favorite). When we got back from the mountains, we found a bright shining rainbow of candy-sweet and deep-tart and summery-smelling beauties waiting for us. And boy do I have a recipe for you. But first – first, let’s talk (in a totally roundabout way) about why we grow tomatoes in our yard, even though 1/4 of our household (starts with K, 6’4, also inexplicably hates blueberries – any guesses?) doesn’t even LIKE them. Unless they are cooked. And then only maybe.
A few years ago, Kyle (did you guess right?) read John Bowe’s eye-opening book Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy. Bowe writes eloquently about how a modern-day system of slavery lurks in the background of our everyday transactions – traveling, shopping, eating. He systematically exposes horror after horror, and his writing left Kyle feeling troubled and deeply saddened. But we were also baffled – what might we be able to do for all of these powerless people that we were potentially exploiting every time we bought tomatoes, oranges, cups or clothing?
In the years since then, Kyle and I have become serious about voting with our dollars. We try to support only companies that treat all people involved in making their products with respect and dignity. But the atrocities continue, with brands we use and events we take for granted – from the more well-known issues with iPad production and Super Bowl sex trafficking, to the heartbreaking stories of Pentagon subcontractors in Iraq and Afghanistan being held in conditions of indentured servitude. According to the State Department’s annual trafficking report, in 2011 over 27 MILLION people worldwide were being held as modern-day slaves.
And so still we are baffled about what we can do. When coconut oil, fresh fish, smart phones and my children’s clothing all have the potential to have been touched by slave labor, the problem feels overwhelming, and so much bigger than we are.
So we plant tomatoes.
And we raise our hands when Nicole at The Giving Table organizes Food Bloggers for Slave-Free Tomatoes. It might sound like a melodramatic name for an online blogger event, but Nicole does not use the word slave lightly – or without cause. As Bowe pointed out in Nobodies, the Florida tomato fields are a scourge of decrepit conditions, violent intimidation, and little-to-no pay for workers. Race-based slavery theoretically ended with the Civil War, but make no mistake: modern-day American slavery is a very real problem.
But here is something, however small, that we can do about it.
We can agree to eat only tomatoes that we grow ourselves or get at Farmer’s markets, and enjoy in season. And if you must have supermarket tomatoes – choose only those that have been certified by the Fair Food Standards Council.
We can also join in supporting Recipe for Change and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. They are targeting major supermarket chains this summer, asking them to guarantee that all tomatoes are slave-free and all workers are fairly treated. To put pressure on these big companies, CEOs need to hear from consumers – so here’s where you come in! For today, Tomato Tuesday, take 30 seconds (really! that’s it!) and raise your voice. Sign your name to the online letter - if enough of us speak up, maybe all major supermarket tomatoes will be from slave-free farms by the end of this summer. (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have already agreed to stock only slave-free tomatoes!)
One of the reasons I really like this campaign is that there is no “us” helping “them” – the Coalition of Immokalee Workers includes actual farm workers, who originated the ideas and developed the organization. It is through and around that effort that a larger concerned community has grown. The powerful will always try to control the struggle between free and unfree people – but when we agree that human dignity is more important than low prices at the checkout counter, and when we speak that truth to power, then we – collectively – can become the powerful ones.
One last thing: Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger singing Amazing Grace … bright shining as the sun.
:: Dry Pan Cherry Tomatoes with Padron Peppers and Sweet Corn
We are pretty sure that we first encountered Padron peppers at a tapas restaurant in San Rafael a handful of years back. But we are positive that we first cooked them ourselves last summer, when they started magically appearing in our CSA box each week. The directive from our farmers was clear: heat them in a very hot cast iron skillet, no oil, for a few minutes until they blister. Toss with good olive oil and flaky salt. Eat out-of-hand. So we did – and holy wow. They instantly became our number one favorite summer snack, appetizer, dinners-not-ready-yet munch, and we-must-tell-our-friends CSA item.
We love growing cherry tomatoes because they are so good to eat fresh, the kids love to pick them, and they are easier to cage than heavier varieties (we are lazy gardeners). But they are not the best for the grill – they tend to need skewers, and then careful watching or they turn to mush. It got me thinking that maybe a quick flip in a super hot cast iron would work for them, too – in lieu of grilling. Some leftover corn (already blanched, but you could go either way) got the same treatment. Everything was tossed with the barest drizzle of olive oil (it is really just enough to make the salt stick) and then a generous pinch of flaky salt.
And now, I present to you our new go-to summer side dish, fish topping, have-with-an-egg-and-toast dinner, and I-love-you-leftover lunch. It’s seriously that good – and that easy. (Ahem … just like signing the letter to end slavery in the tomato fields :)
2 cups cherry tomatoes, assorted shapes sizes and colors (I halve them before cooking because of my little one, but you wouldn’t have to if you don’t have a one-year old)
1 dry pint padron peppers (or more if you have them – and hey, does anyone know a good substitute here? I kind of think there isn’t one :( )
1-2 ears sweet corn, blanched or not, kernels cut off the cob
1-2 tablespoons of your favorite finishing oil
1 tablespoon flaky sea salt (or more – to taste)
Cook the peppers, then the tomatoes, then the corn. Doing them separately gives you room in the skillet and proper cooking time. Doing the peppers first gives you a delicious snack while you make everything else. For each item, make sure the skillet is very hot and dry (use your largest cast iron, well seasoned please). Put the veggies in the pan, and wait a minute or two until they start to brown/blister. Toss quickly, and let sit another minute or so. Be especially careful with the tomatoes – you want a kiss of heat to amp up the flavor, but you don’t want tomato mush!
Place all together in a bowl, and toss gently with the oil and salt. It sounds like not enough of a dressing, but there is sweetness from the corn, and the tomato juices run in with everything and add a little acidity and bite, and the peppers – those peppers! – offer a grassy and addictive chew (and an occasional pop of heat – about 1/10 is spicy, so test them before giving to kiddos). So just try it. And if you really must add a squeeze of lemon … well I don’t want to hear about it.
In lieu of the usual you-might-also-likes, here instead is a list of bloggers participating in today’s event. Click on over and say hi – several of them are already on my favorites list, and all of them are worth a read! Thank you to each of my fellow participants for using their platforms, large and small, to engage with the world and make it better – and thank you to Nicole for organizing and inspiring us to do so!