You say tomato, I say to-mah-to…

September 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

A couple of years ago someone forwarded me a flyer for an all-day seminar on “The Spirituality of Food.” The title intrigued me, so I signed up. Presenters covered topics such as slow food, cooperative farmers’ markets, sustainable agriculture, and the ethics involved in the practices of modern agribusiness. One of the speakers suggested that everyone would benefit from growing at least part of what they eat as a way to be connected with the process of food production. That idea resonated with me.

Having been a city dweller most of my life, I’d never grown up around big gardens that yielded bushels of vegetables to fill a freezer and line shelves with home canned goods. (Although I knew people who did.) I believe the only things I ever grew from seeds were flowers. My work was cut out for me if I was going to heed the speaker’s advice and grow something edible.

The next summer I got several tomato plants and put them in my back yard near the porch. I watered them when it got dry. I staked them. I dusted them with natural herbicides to keep the pests away. I mean, I’d just stand there and admire them. Then after the proscribed interval, the little fruits began sporting a slight yellowish tint that would day-by-day morph into a bright red-orange. One evening I walked past the plants on my way from the car and thought to myself, “I’m going to pick and eat my first home grown tomato tomorrow!” I was so excited.

But when I woke up, the gorgeous little gem was gone. It hadn’t fallen to the ground — I checked. I confess I wondered whether the heist was perpetrated by a two-legged or four-legged thief. I shrugged off the disappointment and decided to focus on the next tomato likely to ripen. Once again, the morning I went out to harvest the little beauty, it had disappeared. This pattern continued until frost claimed the plants (I planted them later than I should have.) For all my trouble, I only harvested one measly tomato, and unfortunately, it tasted bland. Hmmm. This whole “growing some of my own food” experience wasn’t going as planned.

This year, I decided to try again, planting another four-pack of patio tomatoes in my little garden plot. I also threw in some herbs so just in case the critters were still on the prowl I’d at least have something to harvest. As it turns out, this season all the plants have grown quite nicely, especially since the temperatures haven’t been anywhere near as brutal as last summer’s nor has it been as dry. And for whatever reason, it seems as if the critters are currently occupied elsewhere. All this to say…

I picked and ate my first home grown tomato of the season the other day! It was smallish, but very tasty and sweet. I think I’m in love. Holding that bright red-orange little orb in my hand took me back to the best tomato of my life.

When I was about six years old, my brother and I were visiting our paternal grandfather for the day at his place in the country. The two of us had spent who knows how long cavorting in the barn, climbing up the ladder to the hay loft and jumping into piles of straw, swinging on grapevines in the woods, and investigating a neighbor’s new bull in the pasture beyond the woods. Our stomachs must have signaled it was time for lunch and we made our way back to Grandpa’s house.

I have no idea what else we had for lunch that day, but tomatoes from his garden were definitely part of the plan. He asked me to go outside and pick a couple from the garden, right outside his back door. I must have told him I didn’t know how to pick a ripe tomato, because the next thing that happened is etched in my memory. He grabbed a salt shaker and escorted me to the tomato patch. I was then instructed on how to determine ripeness by color and texture. Then he plucked one off a vine and asked me to do likewise.

“Now I’m going to show you how you eat a tomato.” He lifted the fruit to his mouth and took a big bite right out of it. Right there, right off the plant, right in the middle of the garden! Then as he sprinkled the cut surface with a little salt, he went on to explain, “And this’ll make it taste even better.” He took a second bite.

“Go ahead. You try it.” I followed suit and chomped into the tomato I’d picked. Well, I can surely testify that I’d never had a taste sensation quite like the one I was having as I stood there in the middle of my grandpa’s garden! Juice dripped down my chin and, before I was done, all the way to my elbows. He smiled his approval and we both kept on slurping and salting and munching away. The experience was not only delicious, but exciting too, on several counts. First, because we weren’t washing the tomatoes, or even slicing them to serve on plates, all civilized-like. We were just letting our primitive, hunter-gatherer selves feed our faces! And secondly, it was a special moment shared between just me and my grandpa, as he passed along one of the secrets of the good life.

Yup. I think I’ll be putting out tomato plants again next year, and might even add some peppers or squash to the mix. It’s true: growing some of your own food does connect you to something vital and nourishing to the soul.



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