My relationship with tomatoes is a passionate one.
My relationship with tomatoes is a passionate one. They invoke my anger and inspire my adoration. The anger runs from November through April when I walk into my local grocery and find round, red objects advertised as tomatoes, only to find they are really red cardboard tennis balls masquerading as the real fruit. Or when I walk into a restaurant and accidentally order something with tomatoes, only to be subjected to the imposter's whorish disappointments. It's like closing your eyes to kiss your lover, leaning in, and being kissed by a goat. I see that red thing; my brain says it's a tomato; my tongue knows better. But I am always frustrated. For those six months, I try to avoid fresh tomatoes altogether and go for the Pomi boxes or something canned in Italy. Some folks say I'm too much of a purist. OK. I admit it. Maybe I do go a little overboard about tomatoes. But just a little.
I feel adoration the rest of the year when I can stop at my local tomato stand (Highway 71 at Hamilton Pool Road) and pick up some of the world's most delicious food -- juicy, packed with flavor, sweet and tangy with that indescribable kiss of flavor that whispers "tomato." This year, during May and June, I had tomatoes for lunch and dinner. Caprese salads made with fresh mozzarella and chopped basil; pasta with garlic, olive oil, basil, and chopped tomatoes; ham sandwiches with half-inch-thick slices of tomatoes. Sometimes in the afternoon, I would saunter into the kitchen, cut a huge tomato in half, put a little salt on it, and eat it like an apple. During season, I'll put down two or three tomatoes a day.
In a previous career, I worked with an alcoholic man whose drink of choice was Bailey's Irish Cream. Besides getting very fat from drinking two or three bottles a night, he was fast going broke from the expense. So he tried to make his own. He was still an obese alcoholic, but it did cost him less. And just like him, as a non-recovering tomato-holic, I tried growing my own. I learned the hard way about blossom-end rot, spider mites, hornworms, early blight, late heat, over-watering, and under-watering. I've dealt with birds that seem to love the tomatoes as much as I do. I've tried Beefsteaks, Big Boys, Merceds, Sun Kings, Yellow pears, Sweet 100s, and Sweet Millions. And no matter how many plants I grow, I can never seem to satisfy my jones. Instead, I've made friends with the farmers, oohing and aahing over their produce, generally ingratiating myself until they give me the cream of their crop. Then I rush home for another tomato fix. My wife looks askance. "You'll get canker sores," she warns. I don't care. This is adulation. This is passion. This is love. This is tomato season.