“Tomatoes, Then and Now,” Sept. 29, 2020

No perfection is quite as perfect as a good homegrown tomato. With a sprinkle of salt.

As a child, I loved following my grandmother around her garden, watching her weed and prune and pick her way through a bounty she cared for almost as tenderly as she cared for me.

Choosing the ripest tomato, she would hold it up to the sun, marvel at its color, clean it with a quick wipe of her apron and present it like a treasure to me.

Back then—before I learned how to wield a salt shaker—I was not as fond of tomatoes as I am now. Not even close. But the look on my grandmother’s face—the pride she showed in having grown that tomato and the pleasure she took in sharing it—were impossible to resist.

I’d take a bite and hand it back to her, feeling the juice dribble down my chin. Then she’d laugh, take a bite and say, “Nothin’ finer than a good tomato from God’s garden.”

Revisiting that memory never fails to make me smile.

What’s your favorite food? Why do you love it? I mean, besides the fact that it tastes good? Is there a memory it recalls that makes you happy? Tastes are often sweetened by the memories they evoke.

Here’s a bad thing about tomatoes. I seldom find one I like in a grocery store. The ones that make me smile usually come from somebody’s garden.

Not my garden, of course. I don’t have one. I inherited my grandmother’s love for fresh vegetables, not her willingness to commit to the back-breaking effort it takes to grow them.

For the record, I raised three children. I can work hard. I just don’t like to raise stuff that has to be replanted every spring and often gets eaten by deer.

Lucky for me, I married well. My husband’s sister, Lynn, is a master gardener. Not only does she garden. She shares.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t live next door. But when she visits, she brings us tomatoes from her garden. Like her, they’re divine. I suspect it’s because of all the love that she puts into them.

This morning, my husband fried bacon (I told you I married well) and we made BLT’s with one of Lynn’s lovely tomatoes.

I wish you could’ve tasted it.

Here’s the recipe: Fry bacon. Skip the lettuce (it just wilts.) Slice a good tomato and sprinkle it with salt. Slather mayo on bread. Make a sandwich and eat it. You can thank me later.

Our backup, if Lynn’s too busy pulling weeds to visit, is a box of organic, locally grown produce we’ve had delivered to our door every week since the start of the pandemic. The contents of the box varies, but lately it’s had a whole lot of cherry tomatoes.

Here’s Lynn’s recipe for a whole lot of cherry tomatoes: Wash, dry, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and spread them in a single layer in a baking dish with four or five cloves of garlic. Roast at 350 degrees for an hour or so until they collapse and turn into what I call “tomato jam.” It’s delicious heaped on anything from eggs to pasta to cardboard.

If need be, you can make it with store-bought tomatoes, not the same, but still good. Even store-bought produce is planted and tended and harvested with back-breaking effort, and hopefully with love, by somebody, somewhere.

I often try to picture, and give thanks for, all the unseen hands that keep me and my loved ones well fed—for farmers and field workers, pickers and packers, ranchers, dairy workers, drivers, grocers and countless others who work so hard to put veggies on my plate, cream in my coffee and bacon in my BLT’s.

My life is different in infinite ways from how my grandmother raised her family. But what we eat is still a gift from the great abundance of God’s garden.

No matter where it’s grown, I’m grateful for the hands that make it all possible. Especially for a good homegrown tomato.

Comments

  1. Kate Sciacca says:

    My mama LOVED her tomatoes…. I’d forgotten that until you reminded me 🙂. Lately I’ve been using the abundance of cherry tomatoes (and those pretty small multi-colored ones… don’t know what they’re called) —that seems to be calling me from every produce aisle I walk — to make bowls and bowls of bruschetta! Heaped on butter and garlic soaked grilled sourdough slices…. oh my…. heaven.

  2. lrchh1 says:

    Nothing like good fresh garden tomatoes. Warm from the garden sun, salt shaker in hand, juice dripping down my chin. Absolute bliss! Sure hate the work of canning them for use in the winter. Thankfully our daughter grew some this year and has shared. We loved them.

  3. Jody S. says:

    One of the songs in our family’s iPod playlist is “Homegrown Tomatoes.” Mmmm.

  4. Shirley Thacker says:

    Eating some cherry tomatoes from the Farmers’ Market . . .green, purple, orange, yellow. Yummy! I will fry some green ones tomorrow. Life doesn’t get any better than that!

  5. Janet Mann says:

    When my husband and I had a garden, we had bacon and tomato sandwiches every morning for breakfast, when the tomatoes were in season. We usually skipped the lettuce because we had eaten it in a salad! He’s gone now and I miss those mornings that I didn’t realize were so special. Thanks Sharon for stirring up good memories for the rest of us.

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