While many of us love the familiar comforts of home, we also sometimes want what we didn’t have while growing up.
I didn’t know what a tomato was supposed to taste like.
The supermarket tomatoes of my childhood were large, round, very firm — and almost blushing pink. These mature-greens tasted washed out too.
It wasn’t until I was a full-fledged adult that I had my first bite of a good tomato. We had lime and grapefruit trees, not tomato plants, in our South Florida backyard.
“Oh, that’s why they’re considered a fruit,” I remember thinking after that momentous burst of flavor. Of course, sweetness is not the scientific reason tomatoes are a fruit rather a vegetable.
That sensory explosion imprinted in my palate memory, and it’s an experience I try to repeat every time, with varying levels of success.
I scope out the quality of the tomatoes at fast-casual joints before telling the sandwich artist whether or not to add them to my sammy. I’d rather have no tomato than a watery one that does nothing but sog up the whole shebang.
I have hesitated — no, refused — to buy tomatoes online. And I’m quite the online shopper of other, nonedible goods.
But tomatoes are so personal to me, not like buying a box of cereal or can of chickpeas. They’re such a delicate decision compared to hardier produce, like potatoes and apples.
When they’re delicious, my tomatoes are tender.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t always demand the best of the best.
I know appearance is often unrelated to flavor, for which the ugly produce movement has been doing a great job advocating.
Sometimes I’ll accept a piece of produce that’s not top-level tasting quality either, because, hey, OK can be good enough for me.
Not so with tomatoes.
And with all the changes in our shopping habits since the coronavirus pandemic arrived, it’s made tomato-buying even tougher.
I did suck it up and try to buy groceries online in March and April, when I was completely avoiding grocery stores and farmers markets in New York City, the COVID-19 epicenter of the U.S. at the time.
But all the online services were overloaded with orders back then, so I never got to see if my tomato prejudices were founded.
I have a hard time trusting that these shoppers will select what I would select.
Yet we know many consumers, probably even some picky produce people, are taking that leap.
On July 1, Retail Feedback Group reported in its 2020 U.S. Online & In-Store Grocery Shopping Study that 50% of in-store supermarket shoppers also ordered groceries online in the past 30 days.
One important insight in that study is that shopping online for produce is not an all-or-nothing endeavor.
I source my food from all over: the supermarket, farmers market, CSA, specialty stores, drugstores and restaurants.
Someday, I’ll take that online leap for my tomatoes. But I suspect I’ll be very judgy.
Amy Sowder is The Packer’s Northeast editor. E-mail her at email@example.com.