The tomato was more still-life than salad. Perched atop the butcher's block, it glowed orange and scarlet, daring me to drop the ax. Ribbed, meaty shoulders cushioned its gnarled core, while cracks spread from beneath its seat in weepy seams.
The brandywine is known for flavor, not looks. The 19th century cultivar found its way into the mainstream in 1982, when elderly Ohio gardener Ben Quisenberry introduced it to the Seed Savers Exchange.
From there the brandywine took off, shading its broad, green potato leaves over soil plots across the county. Each plant produced only a few pink fruits, heavy in the hand and costly at the market. Soon sub-strains began to appear—purple brandywine and golden, Amish and Glick's, brandywine cherry and brandywine sport—some as hearty as the original, some without the flavor.
Today, the original is distinguished as Sudduth's brandywine, named for Mrs. Dorris Sudduth Hill who first passed the seed to Quisenberry, and saved from the same line of plants ever since. I have no way of telling if mine is a fraud; a forgery would likely pass along my unknowing tongue long before I learn enough to cry out. But the woman who sold it to me at the market was called Dorris, coincidence star-crossed enough to make me a believer.
I sink the knife into its core, circling quickly and finally pulling hard. I turn the noble fruit on its side and slice it into rings so meaty they appear as steak on the board. I plate them, arrange them with basil and sea salt, and drizzle the constellation with a sweet, creamy balsamic. Real or not, the taste is divine.
Cut the core from one unrefrigerated 1 pound brandywine and slice into rings. Plate fruit in a fan on 2 dishes. Thinly chop 6-8 large basil leaves into strips and layer over tomatoes. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Whisk together 2 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise (see yesterday's post on summer slaw for recipe, leaving out garlic), 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, and 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard to make a creamy balsamic. Drizzle over top and enjoy.