jaron summers (c) 2015
My friend, Martha Stew, invited me go shopping with her. As readers will recall, it was Martha who taught me how to make her world famous pasta sauce.
As we drove to the market, I asked Martha why it was that my sauce never seemed to taste as good as hers.
“Your basic ingredients are stale,” explained the world’s greatest chef.
“I thought I used fresh ingredients,” I said.
She smiled. “Not only must you have fresh ingredients, you must not allow them to deteriorate for even a second. The process can be learned, if you have the desire,” she said.
“I have the desire,” I said.
“You must be ruthless,” she said. “Are you willing to be ruthless?”
“Very well. Now, regarding the pasta sauce, I will show you my method of selecting a fresh tomato.” We parked at an open-air market and bounded out of her new Range Rover.
We sauntered along the rows of produce, various fruit vendors and vegetable peddlers fell to their knees, honored to have the world-renowned Martha Stew visit them.
“In buying a tomato, start with vine-ripened varieties,” said my friend.
“How about this?” I asked, picking up what appeared to be a luscious red tomato. The owner of the vegetable stall crept forward, keeping his eyes on the ground, averting our gaze.
The man sensed he was in the presence of a deity. (He also realized that an endorsement from Martha would mean he could double his prices.)
Martha took the tomato from me and sniffed it. She did not bring the tomato to her nose. She did not lower her head to the tomato. She merely sniffed in the tomato’s general direction and then slapped it against the vegetable seller’s head. Splat.
“My apologies, Chef Stew,” whuspered the vegetable seller.
“Perhaps you don’t understand,” said Martha. “We are simply searching for some serviceable vine-ripened tomatoes. And if it would not be too much trouble, they ought to be fresh. You think you can manage that, little vegetable monger?”
“Yes, oh, yes,” said the small man and sprinted to his truck. From under a tarp, the small man produced a lovely red tomato. A vine still clinging to it. He raced back to us, dropped to his knees and presented the tomato to us.”
This time Martha leaned down and sniffed the tomato then bit the attached vine. Martha’s face turned the color of the tomato. “You impudent monger! Son of the devil!” cried Martha. “This vine is dead. Has been for hours.” She gave him a quick left jab.
“I did not mean to offend,” said the vegetable seller, spitting blood. “Give me one more chance.” He crawled back to his truck and wiggled under its tarp, then reappeared a moment later with a tomato plant in a barrel. He brought the barrel and tomato to us.
Martha allowed a smile to play on her face. She stared at the three tomatoes on the plant. She picked two of them and squashed them firmly into the ears of the vegetable seller. “These are inferior, as you know,” Martha said. The great chef then smelled the remaining tomato. “Ah, but this has promise. It is vine-ripened. It has the correct texture and since it is still growing, I pronounce it reasonably fresh. How much?”
“It’s a dollar a pound,” said the vegetable seller, tomato juice streaming down his face.
“Send a purchase order in triplicate to one of my many underlings. I wish to transport the tomato to my kitchen as quickly as possible to insure it will not grow stale.”
The great chef walked purposefully to her Range Rover, got in, slipped the vehicle into reverse and backed up at great speed, stopping within inches of the tomato plant.
(She did not realize she had run over several small children, but these were being attended to by the crowd the great chef had drawn.)
She ordered me to grasp the tomato while leaning out of the Range Rover’s window. “Hold on firmly but gently to that lovely tomato,” she said.
She accelerated, the tomato broke loose from the vine and we sped back to the kitchen. By running several stoplights and using the sidewalks judiciously, we were able to make the return trip in less than three minutes.
Martha slipped the tomato into boiling water on her stove. “Do you begin to see how one goes about selecting fresh ingredients? And then keeping them as fresh as possible until they are used?” she asked.
“Now we must find some fresh salt.”
“How do you tell when salt is fresh?” I asked.
She gave my arm a gentle squeeze. “After we get to the Dead Sea, I will show you.” She adjusted the heat by half a degree under the tomato. “Let’s see how quickly we can get to the airport. I think we’ll take the polar route. We may want to procure some fresh ice.”