Monday, August 11, 2008

The Signposts of Summer

For anyone who read about our massive tomato-transplanting day so many moons ago, it probably comes as no surprise that the prospect of our twice-weekly tomato harvest inspires in me more than a little dread. My tomato anxiety, however, has less to do with the epic proportions of our harvest (we pulled in slightly more than 450 pounds of salable tomatoes today, for example), and more to do with the number of culls that never make it out of the field. Tomatoes might just be the most finicky fruit* on the farm--they wither from disease, crack from too much rain, or wilt from underwatering. They're the petulant toddlers of the vegetable world: nothing but trouble to the folks who raise them, but to everyone else, the darling of the market stand.

Some of our tomatoes are luscious, delectable specimens. Others have passed their prime or lost the war against bugs until all that remains is a pulpy mess of wrinkled skin and tomato splooge. I have no problem babying the first and discarding the second. What kills me, positively stops me in my tracks, are the single-fatal-flaw tomatoes, the tomatoes with a hairline crack that I know will soon become sploogy (but which hasn't't yet!); the tomatoes with a barely perceptible bruise, or a tiny tell-tale bug hole. Without fail, I pause and deliberate. Salvage it? Find it a good home, or at least the makings of a decent BLT? Reason usually triumphs (with 450 lbs of other, perfect tomatoes to chose from, who will want this one?), and I toss the rejected tomato to the paste-covered ground. But not before taking a bite.

This valedictory bite has become a compulsion for me. Particularly in the back field, where my absolute favorite tomatoes proliferate, I will not discard a tomato without affirming its value with my own personal taste test. So I work my way down the row, tomato juice dripping from my chin, carrying a faint but unmistakable tomato perfume, and leaving a twisted fairy tale trail of half-eaten tomatoes in my wake. Given the number of field-culls on any normal harvest day, I'm beginning to worry that lycopene may be replacing blood in my veins. At least I won't be catching scurvy any time soon...

*While tomatoes are, biologically speaking, a fruit (they bear seeds), in 1893 the Supreme Court ruled that they occupied a place in the meal customarily filled by a vegetable, and were therefore a vegetable in the eyes of the law. I'm holding my breath that they will soon rule as to the proper interpretation of such classic Southern "vegetable" dishes as baked apples, hushpuppies, and macaroni and cheese.

No comments: