Red Gold Tomatoes, diced, 14.5 oz. can

There is a part of me that has always craved old-fashioned American goodness.

I could watch endless marathons of Lassie and Leave It to Beaver. I love mid-century style, movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, and songs like “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.”

I am trying to bring “swell” back as an adjective.

When it comes to graphic design, this translates as a fondness for fruit crate label art. Its simple lines, bright colors, and cheerful messages are very comforting, and I also do enjoy delicious fruits and vegetables.

One contemporary example of this style would be cans of Red Gold® tomatoes, like the one shown above. There is a background of buoyant, bright yellow rays of sunshine radiating upward. There is a classic floating ribbon in a rich and healthy green. And, of course, both the plump tomato and the bold brand name share the richest possible red.

Plus, “Red Gold” is just a brilliant name for tomatoes.

Meanwhile, as a blogger and social networking enthusiast, I am used to getting unusual messages via email. There was a woman last week who apparently thought I was Chef José Andrés and wanted to visit the town where the gin was made. Rock bands first want to become MySpace friends, then send messages asking me to attend their shows at truck stops in Oklahoma. Any time I log in to MySpace, no less than three barely dressed women message me to express spontaneous affection.

About three weeks ago, a stranger emailed me offering to send some Red Gold tomatoes.

He said he had been reading my blog, and maybe Red Gold tomatoes would be something I could write about. He noted that Red Gold has been an Indiana-based, private, family run business since 1942. Clearly, he had homed right in on my keeness for simple, Midwestern, WWII-era food traditions.

I didn’t realize it was that obvious.

I wrote back that, fine, he could send some tomatoes, but I couldn’t promise I would come up with anything to write about them. I mean, we often buy Red Gold tomatoes — not just because of the label art, but because they are very red, truly tasty ,and convenient. Beyond that, though, I didn’t know what else I could say.

Perhaps if there was an interesting story behind the company, or maybe some recipes? I always enjoy learning how things came to be, and I have found that my visitors generally love recipes.

The man emailed that he would send a cookbook with the tomatoes, including both recipes and the company story.

Red Gold Tomatoes: promotional merchandiseA few days later, the tomatoes arrived — six cans in a special cardboard case. There were diced tomatoes and petite diced tomatoes, some with roasted garlic and onion, others with basil, garlic and oregano, and one can with green chilies. A couple of days after that, the cookbook arrived. With it came a T-shirt, a knit cap, a license plate, a key chain, a plastic spring-clip, a tiny cutting board, a refrigerator magnet, and two coupons for one free can of tomatoes each — a whole prize package of Red Gold swag.

The cookbook is attractive, and I know there are a lot of people who like the convenience of the “almost homemade” style of cooking, but Amy and I just do not cook with instant rice, canned cream of chicken soup, canned crescent rolls, or even ground beef very much. We were stumped trying to find something to make.

Actually, Red Gold offers a good many recipes online, and some of them look even better than the ones in the book. For example, Cheesy Minestrone Soup could be doable.

I have said this before, but we really like the recipes from Cooking Light. Examples of dishes in which we would use Red Gold tomatoes would be things like Lentil-Edamame Stew, Southwest Cilantro Fish Stew, or Chicken Cassoulet with Acorn Squash — and yes, a cassoulet is really just another stew.

The history of Red Gold is pretty interesting, both as presented online and also in the cookbook.

You’ve got retired Grover Hutcherson going back to work there in Orestes, Indiana after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and restoring a fire-damaged packing company in order to feed the troops. Then daughter Fran and her husband Ernie Reichart take over in 1948, producing “Indiana Chief” and “Indiana’s Finest” tomato products. Over the years they buy forklifts and gas lines, and then the “Red Gold” label in 1970. They adopt coreless tomatoes in 1976 (I had never heard of coreless tomatoes until now), and on and on — a manufacturing plant in Elwood, a transport company, a state-of-the-art-evaporator, corporate offices, etc.

Red Gold is one of those great American business stories.

A detail that caught my attention in the cookbook’s introduction is Red Gold’s unique approach to marketing. I read that there’s a silo off I-65 in southern Indiana that has been painted to look like a the world’s largest Red Gold can (it’s a fun fact).

Googling around a little, I found that it’s located a mile south of Henryville on the east side of the road. You can see a photo of it on Flickr. Both the photo and the silo were created by Young & Laramore‘s 2nd Globe Studios.

There is also a RedGoldTomatoes channel on YouTube, showcasing a video version of “The Red Gold Story,” along with a couple of short clips like “Hot Lady Bug”:


Apparently they also have a guy experimenting with sending tomatoes to food-loving bloggers. I was telling my sister — the one with the marketing degree — about all this Red Gold stuff last night, and she asked, “Are they paying you to write about them?”

I told her they are not.

“Then don’t spend any more of your valuable time on it,” she advised me. “Stick with the people who pay you. You can’t eat key chains or pay your mortgage with T-shirts.”

Well, we are eating the tomatoes — but she’s right, of course. I need to get back to helping people market things online for money — get their brands noticed, and whatnot.

Meanwhile, here’s my latest message from that email guy:

Say, I just thought you might like to know that on Saturday, March 14, Red Gold is going to be sampling at area grocery stores, as well as giving away reusable grocery bags (the same one that you have).

They will be doing this at Roundy’s locations (Pick n’ Save) throughout the Greater Milwaukee area. The sampling and giveaways will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. They have a lot of the bags, but people should probably get there before the end of the sampling to make sure.

Okay, mister — enough. You didn’t send me any bags (although now I do kinda wanna go and get some). The ones we have are from Trader Joe’s.

After all this Red Gold talk, I’m running out of Monday here, and pretty soon Amy will be on the phone asking what we should have for dinner.

Maybe some sort of healthy-ish, tomato-based stew?