Tomato season is short. In California’s Central Valley, canners have about seventy days to harvest and pack the entire season’s crop. Most people don’t realize that pizzerias all over the planet use canned tomatoes rather than fresh. Think about it; tomato season is short, so the “fresh” tomatoes you buy in March are far from what you’ll get coming off the vine in August. What’s wrong with off-season tomatoes? First of all, flavor is never the concern when breeding tomatoes. They’re grown to be tough enough to handle the rigors of the road. Secondly, they’re often grown in water (Canada) or in sand (Florida), so vital nutrients have to be added artificially. The industrial practices in the fresh tomato industry are also pretty bad, but you’ll have to read a book like Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland for the full scoop on that.
The canned tomato doesn’t get its due, so I decided to take a quick trip out to Modesto, Ca for a first-hand look at how some of our favorite pizza tomatoes are grown, harvested and canned. I visited farms and facilities used by Stanislaus Food Products, one of the country’s leading tomato companies and certainly the most popular in the New York area. I personally love their products, which often take top honors at our annual tomato tastings (see here, here and here).
First we headed out to a farm that was in the midst of being harvested. Farmers in Modesto use amazing machines that harvest an entire vine in one shot. Check out this video for a better look at the machine. It has three sets of “eyes” that discard tomatoes that aren’t the correct color. The machines look for a bright red - you know TOMATO COLOR!