My mother always had a garden. And she always, ALWAYS grew tomatoes. Lots of them, enough to can for the rest of the year. I love tomato season. When I was a kid, I’d go pick one in the afternoon and make a sandwich. Or sometimes, if she had cherry tomatoes, go out and just eat them like…well…cherries.
The neighborhood we lived in when I was growing up had a local swimming pool. I would walk to it (it was about a mile, half of the walk was down a shady road, the other half through a weedy field, in the blazing sun) about 10 am many mornings (if I was up that early), and stay until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. After messing around there, and the mile walk home, I would be famished. There would be a swing through the garden, to pick a fat ripe tomato. It would find itself sliced thick and laid on a sandwich of Roman Meal bread, a slice of cheap cotto salami (the kind with the peppercorns in it) and a generous slathering of mayonnaise. Sometimes the tomato would be big enough for 2 sandwiches, and since I didn’t want to waste it, I’d have to make 2. If my brother wanted one, he’d have to get his own tomato.
I remember when Terry and I were just married. We’d moved away from Auburn to Tennille, Ga, and were renting a house. I used a shovel to plow up a bit of ground in the backyard, and planted some tomatoes, squash and peppers. For supper now and then, I’d pick a tomato or two, a couple of peppers (cubanelles), and chop them all together with a sweet vidalia onion to make a salad. Add a drizzle of oil and a splash of vinegar, a bit of black pepper…with a grilled chicken breast it made for a delicious summer supper.
Now I have a little garden in the back yard, and my fun involves heirloom tomatoes. They aren’t as big or impressive as the standard Southern Big Boys that people grow for sandwiches, but they’re interesting. I have grown Queen of Prussia (awesome, they produced until late September, longer than any other variety), Mr. Stripey (a yellow with red stripes, lower acid than standard ones) and this year it’s Black Prince- a dark purple one that I have no idea how to tell when it’s ripe or rotten. I always plant Brandywines, they have fantastic flavor even if they’re kind of small, and Sweet 100’s because they’re like little candies to pick and eat when weeding. And, for Terry, a Parks Big Boy to make BLTs.
But the best memory, the finest use of a tomato, is still that big warm one at 2pm, sliced thick with a bit of salami and a slather of mayo. It is the best use of a tomato.