Monday, September 14, 2015

Papa's tomatoes


I have a thing for tomatoes. I could eat them every single day - more than once a day - and it wouldn't be enough. This time of year, when the tomato plants are groaning with fruit, is one of the best, I think. I can't grow my own tomatoes very well, though I have tried and tried. There's something about the angles of sun exposure in our yard - the sunniest areas are also much too hot and are difficult to water. This year, we tried buckets on the patio. They were modestly successful - we had three cherry tomatoes and one small, streaky-green heirloom slicing tomato. We're studying our tomato difficulties with great seriousness; computerized soil-temperature-taking systems are in use as we speak. This is not necessarily my area of expertise, but I'm eager to see the findings. If they lead to future bumper crops of tomatoes for my eating pleasure, so much the better.


In the meantime, I buy tomatoes in the store, and I take as many homegrown handouts as I can get. I like just about all varieties of tomato, and I often buy assortments, such as the Mini Heirloom tomatoes sold at Trader Joe's (that's where the tomatoes in these photos came from). My in-laws grow tomatoes at their house, while they're in the US for the summer. They live just two blocks away while they're here, in a house with a big, sunny patio in the back. They have great exposure for tomatoes and they grow large, delicious, deep-red ones in rolling planters that they move throughout the day. I gladly take bagfuls of their tomatoes from July through September.

This year, their tomatoes developed a fungus once ripened and quickly deteriorated. To say that I was disappointed barely begins to describe it. I was gutted, I'd been looking forward to their tomatoes all year. I hope that between their gardening expertise (my mother-in-law is a botanist, after all; she does know a thing or two about plant life), and our intensive, scholarly tomato research, we'll all be enjoying oodles of tomatoes next summer.


Do you ever try to trace where your love for something started? I think about this often when it comes to foods, especially tomatoes because I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't crave them. I think it began when I was a child. We had a neighbor across the street who grew enormous Beefsteak tomatoes in his backyard. He was an older man, in his eighties when I was a small child, and he lived with his daughter and her husband. His name was Bill, but my sisters and I called him Papa Bill, out of respect and to distinguish him from our own Grandpa Bill.

We liked to go over to their house with our mother, to chat with them all on the driveway (it was that kind of neighborhood; everyone sat outside in lawn chairs on summer evenings). Papa Bill would show us his tomato plants. He was very proud of them. We'd watch their progress all summer; by August, they were dragging on the ground under the weight of their fruit. When they ripened, he'd send us home with a paper bag full of softball-sized tomatoes. Our mother would give us each a brown Tupperware bowl and we'd sit on the front steps as the summer night closed in, eating our tomatoes like apples, trying to use our bowls to catch the drips. Juice ran down our arms, into our sleeves, and down our necks into our collars. We needed baths when we were finished. I savored the taste until it was time to brush my teeth.

Papa Bill's tomatoes were one of the highlights of my childhood summers. He died when I was twelve years old and I'll always remember him for his generosity and his incredible tomato garden. I know it's because of him and his tomatoes that I love them so much now.


I dream of eating tomatoes like those again someday. The ones I've been enjoying this summer have been pretty darn good, though. I still eat them plain, sometimes like an apple the way I did as a child, but more often I eat them sliced, or chopped in a salad with other ingredients. In the summer, I'm happiest with lighter foods, and I find that a tomato salad with some good bread and a little hummus, or cheese, makes a very good lunch - or even dinner if it's one of those exceptionally hot, slow days where I don't feel like moving, let alone cooking a full meal. I think simple is best when it comes to enjoying fresh ingredients, don't you? I usually dress my sliced tomatoes with salt, pepper, a little bit of olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. When I have fresh basil, I tear a few leaves into small pieces and scatter them over the dressed tomatoes. I can eat pounds of tomatoes this way; heck, I can eat pounds of good tomatoes whole, with my hands, standing over the kitchen sink. Slicing, dressing and plating are optional steps. Silverware need not apply.

40 comments:

  1. What a gorgeous post Jennifer, asnd I love the photos of your tomatoes, even if they are store-bought. Tomatoes with balsamic and black pepper - mmmmmmm - off to the store to buy some tomorrow, they won't be as good as Papa Bill's, or yours, but hopefully the balsamic and basil will make up for it :) Have a great week, Jillxo

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  2. Jennifer, what a wonderful post. I'm constantly in pursuit of the ultimate tomato variety that's reliable, delicious and does well outside. But they're tricky things over here. I love the story of your childhood tomatoes. We had a greenhouse when I was little and every summer there were masses of tomatoes. I absolutely loved the smell of the foliage, and I still do. I hope you crack tomatoes next year. The wheeled planters sound like an excellent idea. Alas I fear mine will always struggle here unless I one day have a greenhouse. But there are always a few. I usually have one with my lunch of bread, cheese and salad. Love them just with a little salt. Especially when they're warm from the sun. CJ xx

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  3. Such a lovely story from your childhood, thank you for sharing. We are tomato lovers here too, and right now they are rolling in daily from the garden. I wish I could send you some. I think they are the sweetest ever, but you know, I most likely say that every year :) This afternoon my little man and his friend were eating them right off the vine in the garden...maybe that will be a childhood story he shares one day :)

    Have a lovely week Jennifer.

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  4. Another big tomato fan here ! I inherited my love for tomatoes from my dad - I remember he was always eating tomatoes when I was a child. He used to sprinkle sugar on them and then eat them like an apple (yeah, you read correctly, sugar on a tomato... My dad was/is kind of weird, when it comes to food haha...)
    Love the story about Papa Bill's beefsteak tomatoes...

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  5. I have a thing for tomatoes too. I love them so much my Mike built a green house so we could start our seeds early and have vine ripe tomatoes in February.
    Great story!

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  6. I love hearing stories like this - nice post.
    Funny, I'm not the biggest tomato fan, but, for some odd reason I feel I must grow them in the garden. I've been doing it for eight years now with pretty good success. However, this year we had a similar fungus problem. The few yellow pear shaped tomato plants I had gave us a couple of tomatoes and then died.
    Not trying to spam here (since this is my first comment) but I just put up a blog post about the garden (and the bowls and bowls of cherry tomatoes we are picking right now) - If you are intersted. http://theplaceunderthepine.blogspot.ca/2015/09/garden-2015-update-6-zucchini-is-evicted.html

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  7. Those tomatoes do look very tasty! :o)

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  8. I love tomatoes as well...and I dearly love brushing up beside the leaves. The scent is divine. You mentioned liking to eat them with hummus..me as well. Last week I made cauliflower hummus and it was delish!
    I did love reading this post and your childhood memories are something to truly treasure.

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  9. I smiled and smiled at your tomato pictures. Very artistic. I love tomatoes too...but they don't love me anymore unless they have been cooked. The first year we lived here, I developed an allergy to raw tomatoes. The doctor thought it was the stress of our cross-country move in the dead of winter. I can still eat them on sandwiches because the bread apparently absorbs the acid from the tomato. In the Midwest we put sugar on our raw, sliced tomatoes. Yum!!!! I used to grow bushels of them when we lived in Nebraska. I hope you discover the secret to good growing for next year Jennifer. I also loved the story of Papa Bill. He sounds like a wonderful neighbor to grow up next to.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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  10. those pictures of the tomatoes are beautiful.
    Papa Bill would be pleased to know that you remember him so fondly for his tomatoes and generosity..
    I like tomatoes the normal amount.. my brother as a child loved them so much he ate them like an apple.. and my husband on the other hand detests them..

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  11. Love the pictures of the tomatoes ... and loved reading your post.
    Thank you.

    All the best Jan

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  12. I loved your tomato photos and your story. Tomatoes and I have not had a similar relationship. I wouldn't eat them as a child and only began appreciating them in my 20s. Now I like them, especially sweet cherry ones in salads and a nice slice of a big one on a sandwich. We've never had huge luck growing them here, either. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  13. Before I forget, I gotta say I love your tomato pics! The first one looks like a tomato calendar. I love tomatoes too, and my love of them also began with my mom growing beefsteak tomatoes and we ate tomatoes freshly sliced (thick!) with every meal, homemade canned "tomatoes on toast" (a specialty that all farmers here ate) sprinkled with sugar, tomato salad etc etc. Not to mention all the tomatoes we couldn't eat were canned, and the smell of cooked tomatoes filling the air to bursting on a hot summer night ... priceless. Mom's kitchen was a wonderful place. Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, however, a few years ago I developed an allergic reaction to tomatoes, and they now make me violently ill! Seriously ... why couldn't it have been something like zucchini?! But tomatoes!! Oh how I miss them :(
    Wendy

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  14. Fabulous tomatoes, love them myself too as an apple alternative.....

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  15. What a lovely story x really beautiful x

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  16. i love tomatoes too... and i agree the best way to eat them is without the hassle dazzle of silverware xxx

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  17. We are great tomato fans here, we have mixed blessings with natures bounty I think it depends on the weather and variety. Any surplus I always make tomato chutney for a taste of summer throughout the cooler months.

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  18. Please do share the results of your scholarly tomato growing research. Scotland is not in the tomato growing zone of the world (sadly) unless under glass. I have many memories of home grown tomatoes straight from the plant. I also remember making buckets full of passata with the most fragrant tomatoes ever in Southern Italy. I can smell it now. Thanks for waking up memories for me. x

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  19. I loved this eulogy to the tomato. I think you know my allotment tomatoes are just not ripening on the vine, not enough sun, but they are reddening on a tray at home which I move around our east/west aspect house. Last night I made a chilli snd garlicky tomato sauce to have with pasta which definitely hit the spot in our cold-ridden household. think my love of growing food dates back to my childhood when my parents grew all kinds of fruit. I used to love picking the strawberries and raspberries, currants and blackberries, but we also grew gooseberries, rhubarb, apples, pears and plums. During my gap year I worked on a Kibbutz for three months. The main crop was Galia melons and we were not supposed to eat them while harvesting. But who could resist lying down amongst the melon foliage and cutting into the skin to extract a slice of the the most delicious sun-warmed perfectly ripe melon which was always discreetly shared with fellow volunteers. I have successfully grown melons the size of tennis balls once or twice but nothing compares to that summer in 1980.

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  20. Mouth-watering Jennifer! I too eat tomatoes almost every day, and have all my adult life. And like you, I cannot grow them well at all, and for similar reasons. My father could, though, and there were usually tomato vines about when I was growing up. I love the delicious smell of old-fashioned ripe tomatos - Yum. Your photos are great - they could be wall art!!

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  21. Lovely post Jennifer. I love growing tomatoes and try to grow plants of varying sizes and colour and usually have a fair amount of success, but I've failed miserably this year. Not enough sun here in Britain this summer; hey ho, there's always next year, so we live in hope! Great piccies, have a lovely week. Jane xx

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  22. I'm with you on tomato love. I think looking back, it was my grandpa who introduced me to the delights of tomatoes, he used to have dozens of plants inside his wooden greenhouse, though I didn't like tomatoes at that time, it's something I've come to love in later life. It's been one of my best tomato growing years ever, I'm not sure why as we haven't had a great summer, but I've harvested pounds of tomatoes and they're still coming. Delicious they are too.

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  23. Loving your pictures, I really enjoyed your piece Jennifer . I have just made a tomato, olive oil, basil, squeeze of lime just before I sat down to read your blog .I'm having this with some feta and a lovely slice of toasted olive oil drizzled sourdough bread I certainly believe simple is best
    I too love tomatoes. I too have very fond memories of eating them on the vine from my dads plants. The taste was so divine

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  24. Quite possibly the only person here who dislikes tomatoes but adore the smell of the leaves. They are one of my husbands favourites & eats them on the way in to the house x

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  25. Thank you for another wonderful post, Jennifer...a perfect combination of photos and narrative. I am a lover of tomatoes, too, and have many wonderful childhood memories of the fresh from the garden ones I enjoyed in my childhood in Missouri. Some Missouri folk around me made a fabulous tomato casserole of layers of buttered bread and tomatoes...mmmmm good, and tomato sandwiches with a bit of not necessary mayonnaise, salt and pepper...sigh...but tomatoes warm and fresh from the vine can't be beaten. My success at growing such wonderful tomatoes has not been stellar, but I keep trying. This year I plunked a Sun Gold cherry tomato plant at the corner of the house out in front and it seems to LOVE the location in our acid soil. The plant has been growing up the dry brown rain downspout and we have used two tomato cages to prop the plant up! I am going to go check on it now to see if any of the over 30 little tomatoes I counted the other day are ripe :) xx

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  26. Oh, yes! I love tomatoes too. Can you imagine the world without tomatoes? No way! No spaghetti sauce? No tomato sandwiches or BLTs? I was well into my teens before I began to really appreciate and love fresh, homegrown tomatoes. There's nothing like 'em! Balsamic vinegar is wonderful on them with fresh basil and olive oil. Now you made me HUNGRY!

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  27. My tomatoes are still green and likely to stay that way. LittleR keeps picking them to play with so the chances of them a) being left attached to to the plant to ripen and b) be in the sun enough to turn red are slim! I have to say lots of tomatoes available in the supermarket here don't taste of anything very much so I prefer a cooked tomato. I love the variety of tomatoes you can buy - what great photos. Here's to tomato growing success for us both next season! x

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  28. A lovely, lovely story. I love tomatoes too but I haven't eat one for years, sadly they make me really ill :(

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  29. I love this post. It is amazing how childhood memories weave their stories into our lives. I have a bit of an obsession for tomatoes, especially the sharp, sweet, cherry sized kind. And I too have struggled and struggled to grow a single plant through Summer. I have blamed the rain, our north facing garden and even the dog, and our neighbors plants still produce abundantly never the less.
    I love that you can easily source such a diversity of heritage tomatoes. All those colours! They look like a work of art on the plate :)

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  30. Lovely. I think sliced tomatoes with mozzarella and basil is one of the most delicious things ever. Such simple flavours. I am currently obsessed with the idea of making some homemade tomato ketchup, ever since I tasted some my mum made recently. I need some tomatoes like yours. x

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  31. Beautiful images Jennifer and I love the story of Papa Bill. What a beautiful memory. I like tomatoes too, particularly the little cherry tomatoes. I keep them in a bowl in the kitchen and just eat them like sweets during the day, two or three at a time. X

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  32. love the tomato pictures. They are so much fun. We have had a great year for them in the community gardens. I don't grow them myself either for many of the reasons you mentioned...and...a very serious lack of commitment. But our landlord has a patch of them in the back yard that we pick from sometimes.

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  33. I too love tomatoes. I think they are a perfect snack and they have no calories! Have a wonderful weekend!

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  34. Yum, Yum, Yummy. Ah, the simple things in life, and as I sit here at my desk snacking on my little yellow ones, I am grateful to the gardener who gifted them to me! Yes, the simple things in life! Aloha

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  35. I love tomoatoes too. Especially the smell of them in the greenhouse, it is an evocative smell of my grandparents farm and my days there. Jo x

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  36. What a sweet and touching story : My love for tomatoes, I owe my mother. For as long as I can remember, my mom has grown tomatoes, but more importantly, she's preserved tomatoes. I remember the home canning parties she used to host with her friends and sisters. One of my earliest memories is one of abut 400 Mason jars lined up on clean towwels on the floor of our home, clear, clean and waiting to be filled. One of my first jobs was to drop one bay leaf in each jar. When I became older, I was resonsible for the salt/pepperbasil mix : one heaping teaspoon in each. I still preserve tomatoes the way my mom taught me, and everytime I open a jar in the middle of January and it smells like summer, I'm taken back.

    Thank you for sharing and giving me an opportunity to share... xo

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  37. My Grandad was the same as Papa Bill. He used to fill his entire greenhouse with tomato plants and spend ages tending to them, even though he wouldn't eat the majority of the tomatoes. He would send bagfulls home with every relative and neighbour who visited. I used to turn my bagfuls into chutneys and give a jar back to him. 😊 x

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  38. What a wonderful memory. My papa used to grow tomatoes but mostly he grew flowers.

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  39. I love tomatoes!! But I have a thing about what we always called tommatoes. the little round ones you know. I ate so many of them once when I was small, I got really sick and I don't like them to this day... 75 years later. Just give me a Big Boy and I am happy.

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