This week's Summer in the City lunch menu features a delicious BLT sandwich with Nueske’s bacon and Tasti-Lee tomatoes.
I will discuss Nueske products another blog-day as I want to speak a little about Tasti-Lee tomatoes: A decade in the making, this more flavorful breed has emerged to help Florida growers shed their reputation for rock-hard, tasteless tomatoes.
The Tasti-Lee, a tomato cooked up in a University of Florida research lab, is a crossbreed designed to give Florida growers, who sell three-quarters of their crop to fast-food restaurants or to be chopped into products like salsa or sauce, a way to get in the premium tomato business they ceded long ago.
"Too many premium tomatoes today have a sour, acidic taste, so I balanced Tasti-Lee with a sweetness that tested very well," said Jay Scott, the 62-year-old horticulturist who wed two strains of tomatoes never sold commercially to create the new hybrid. "Plus it's naturally crimson."
It took him five years to select and refine the breed pair, two more years to assemble and test enough seeds and almost three more years to rustle up enough growers and retailers to launch the new tomato.
Publix put them in all 1,100 of its stores in fives states.
"We're selling a lot of them," said Shannon Patten, spokeswoman for Lakeland-based Publix, which signed a three-year exclusive deal to sell Tasti-Lees in Florida.
Except for some pricey Ugly Ripe heirloom tomatoes and a few vine-ripe varieties, Florida growers — who create virtually all the nation's winter tomato crop — stick almost exclusively with varieties bred for long shelf life. They're picked green and as hard as Grannie Smith apples to endure the rough handling of long distance trucking. They are gassed to ripen to pink, while vine ripened tomatoes spend more time in the field.
Tasti-Lee gives up a week of shelf life in the swap for better taste and denser flesh.