Amuse Bouche™: Weekly Musings on Food & Life

09Apr09

heirloom-tomato

Art Book or Cookbook? Food Porn for the Tomato Lover

By Suzanne Lenzer

Some people collect art. Some collect books. I collect what I’ll call “food-as-art” books: a totally made-up category of collectibles that range from the most glorious coffee table tomes to the more humble, work-a-day cookbook. Basically everything in my ever-expanding collection is linked by a common theme—food–yet somehow, by categorizing my library as “art” books I’m better able to rationalize my addiction. Who would question, let alone deny, someone the right to be surrounded by art?

But all joking aside, some of the books I love most really do double as art books. Take for example Amy Goldman’s The Heirloom Tomato, her latest and to my mind most exceptional book yet (she’s also produced similarly volumes dedicated to the squash and the melon). It is, for all intensive purposes, as much a work of art as an encyclopedia for the tomato-obsessed, a historical reference book for the horticultural set, and a cookbook all rolled into one.heirloom-tomoatoes-0908-2_lg-89577415

In terms of artistic credit, much should be given to Victor Schrager who took the luscious photographs. But how can you not ascribe the term artist to someone with the skill and talent to bring these fantastic fruits to life in the first place? As a grower, Amy produces literally hundreds of different varieties of tomatoes on her farm in New York’s Hudson Valley; and each one included in the book features a portrait (picture seems too pedestrian a term for these visions), vital statistics (size, weight, shape, flavor, texture, best uses, origin, etc.), and a charmingly written side story. That’s all before the alluring recipe section–Galette of White Peaches and Tomatoes anyone?

As a fledgling gardener smitten by my own scrawny row of arugula last summer, the tomatoes that this woman grows are enough to take your breath away. In Amy and Victor’s hands, these tomatoes aren’t just fruit, they’re sculptures from the natural world, and the book is a museum dedicated to their beauty.

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Some of my food-as-art books sit on a shelf above my kitchen counter, dog-eared, smeared with olive oil, and generally treated like tools in a workshop. While others are carefully displayed in stacks, well away from the potential danger that my active kitchen poses to an unsuspecting book. The Heirloom Tomato is one of these. It’s a true coffee table book that you want to handle gently. One you wander through like a gallery, flipping the glossy pages to learn about more than 200 kinds of tomatoes, and seeing them in all their erotic glory.

Yes, it’s food porn, and it’s hard to look away. Like your favorite painting or a stunning view, The Heirloom Tomato captivates. It makes you want to grow tomatoes, cook tomatoes, and most certainly, eat them. Luckily summer is just around the corner.

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