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Tomatoed!

Forget the whole debate about whether it is a fruit or a vegetable. Does it really matter? You like, you eat, that’s all that counts in the world of edibles, writes Lalita Iyer.

india Updated: Apr 09, 2009 19:57 IST

Forget the whole debate about whether it is a fruit or a vegetable. Does it really matter? You like, you eat, that’s all that counts in the world of edibles. And so it goes with the cheery tomato.

Once upon a time, my mother, in her quest for making me a good south Indian girl, eligible for marriage to future Ramakrishnans or Balasubramaniams that came her way, engaged a Carnatic music teacher for me.

She was good, the teacher, nothing wrong with her really, and we affectionately called her paatumami. Problem was, she always showed up just as I was back from school, ready to fling my satchel and run off to play. Instead, I had to dress demurely and exercise my vocal chords over a harmonium for an hour.

Taal se taal
Now paatumami really knew her raagams and her taalams, and strictly went by the book. I enjoyed the whole process of finding my voice and my range.. till it began to get tedious, and distracting. I was more interested in ‘getting to the song’ while
she felt I had to learn the discipline before I got on to ‘other things’. And therein lay the problem.

Anyway, my classical singing career was nipped in the bud, but paatumami left something behind that I cherish even today. A recipe for tomato chutney that I have named after her.

Thoda ketchup try karo!
My mother was a great one for buying tomatoes by the tens of kilos and turning them into ketchup. “Now amma, we don’t even like ketchup much. Why are you making so much of it?” I would ask, plaintively, knowing fully well that we would be assigned with filling bottles and bottles of the damn thing, holding a funnel at its mouth, taking care that nothing spills.

And then, the various bottles would be dispatched to near and dear ones, making one feel even more annoyed. “Wait till the prices go up to Rs 60 a kilo, then you will know the value of this,” would be her retort.

She has finally stopped her ketchup jamboree, but has now graduated to tomato thokku (at least I am glad it is more versatile, unlike the blessed ketchup which required one to make grilled sandwiches or
sabudana vadas just to mop up at least a tenth of a bottle).

Each time she visits, she religiously brings over a bottle or two when they are in season, which I laboriously consume over the next few months. Don’t get me wrong, I like the stuff, just that I am not really into preserves–I just find them monotonous—which is why I like instant pickles instead of ones that are made for the year and stocked in bharnis.

Joy of roasting
I find a devious joy in roasting a whole tomato, peeling it and using it for whatever—pasta sauce, gravies, even soup or daal— the whole act of charring that precedes skinning lends it a taste and texture that blanching will never manage.

But, all things said and done, the tomato is one of those ‘always-the-bridesmaid-never-the bride’ kind of stories. Almost every thing you make can justify a tomato, but it can never star in a movie all by itself. Unless you count the tomato soup as a blockbuster, which I don’t, even if it’s made in Tuscany or wherever the best basil grows.