True Love and Homegrown Tomatoes
by Melissa Hawthorne, Gainesville Florida
It is summer in the South. I know this because this morning my son woke up, grabbed his fishing pole, and headed out the door (allowing the screen door to slam) to do some fishing at the old sinkhole. In the afternoon, after a brief rain shower, we decided the air was sufficiently cool enough to go blackberry picking and we happily stained our fingers purple. After, we swam in Grandma’s pool until the sun had set—the last rays of golden light basking over the freshly cut lawn while I distributed towels and decided that having berry cobbler for dinner is perfectly acceptable. It never really feels like summer until we have our first long, lazy day like this one.
But the other indicator that it is truly summertime in the South is the abundance of homegrown tomatoes that have been erupting from my garden. For the past few weeks I have been picking firm, red, heirloom tomatoes several times a day. What to do with this proliferation? Pico de gallo, bruschetta, and simple fresh slices are three of my favorite ways to serve these delicious fruits.
Grocers are beginning to catch on that consumers are willing to sacrifice tomato size for taste. Stores now offer vine-ripened tomatoes among the giant, sterile-tasting bowling-ball sized tomatoes on the produce shelves. But even the vine-ripened varieties cannot compare to the taste, feel, smell, or pride of a homegrown tomato.
The experience of buying a grocery store tomato pales in comparison to the long wait I must endure between seed-sowing and daily harvests, savoring not only the taste of each precious tomato, but delighting in their little scars and imperfections.
From preparing the beds to planting the starts, and then waiting, anticipating, watching and tending to the garden, obsessively guarding for caterpillars, and carefully removing them from the stems, checking on progress, making up excuses to walk past so I can check once more, weeding, watering, and then finding myself meditating while my hands are in the dirt and realizing that my mind is at ease and completely caught up in the present moment, free of any other worries or concerns, even if only for those few brief minutes, I gladly agonize.
When I bring my tomatoes inside and display them on the windowsill, or when I eat one, I am eating all of the care I put into the life of that tomato over the past three months. I am eating my husband’s care and my son’s care, our family’s shared time watching and tending and waiting for the ripening. I am experiencing the bees and the soft sunlight landing on the vine.
I recall Guy Clark’s memorable song that reminds us “there‘s only two things in this world that money can’t buy… true love, and homegrown tomatoes.”
Some things, like tomatoes or true love, really are worth waiting for. It is good to be reminded of this sometimes, in this instant-gratification world that we have somehow unwittingly created.
My tomatoes are ripe and it is officially summertime. But summer lasts a while and down here in the Deep South it gets too hot and sticky for things to last. Already my tomato vines show signs withering and wilting. When they have all laid down their little heads and given up their last bumper crop, I will turn them back into the earth and begin waiting for the spring.
I know it will be worth the wait.