Keeping with the theme of sharing some of my humble garden beginnings, here’s another non-resume item that is perhaps a universal experience.
I was six. I promise I won’t go year by year through my childhood and share each gardening memory or an exacting evolution of my great appreciation! However, this is special. It’s a vignette in time. I can’t tell you what happened before or after on this day. It’s just a distinct memory, existing alone with vague understandings about the outside world.
I remember heat – summer, oppressive heat and a new, unfamiliar woman leading me into her hard, red dirt, back yard. I might of been barefoot. My family was there but I wasn’t paying attention to them. We had a destination because she was intent on showing me something IMPORTANT. I didn’t know what but I had great expectation. Into her vegetable garden we went. She opened the gate. Was it large? 10’x10′? 1/2 acre? I can’t say. And, this is where my focus gets a bit fuzzy – image you’re a bit in a Charlie Brown movie where adults are large, speaking in muffled voices and your own perspective is rather removed from theirs.
I approached the great tomato patch! These vibrant, green, leafy monsters, floppy – hairy stemmed, staked beasties had managed to corral themselves into neat rows that lined up with such depth they seemed like an endless corn field. The kindly and informative adult voice was carefully explaining that tomatoes actually come from plants and not the grocery store. WHAT?!?! This was a tomato PLANT! Awesome. Bizarre. What a confounding thought that was.
Then she did something remarkable… I wouldn’t of thought of this myself – ever! I didn’t think it was possible. Her great arm reached over me and picked a red fruit. Now maybe she was growing a Better Boy, medium sized, salad/slicing tomato. This was in the early 70’s and those hybrids for the resistance to fungal and bacteria rot were certainly all the rage. I am not sure what cultivar was there except that it was – now placed in my hand – the temperature of sunshine, hefty, soft and firm, smooth and curious. What happens next is quite predictable. She encouraged me to eat – right there! In the garden! Not in the house with a napkin, plate and fork… but, unwashed, and – without knowing this word- it was ‘primal’.
So it happened, my first bite into a real, flavorful tomato – shattering all I knew about bland, waxy, lumps of pasty red stuff before. This was different! This tasted rich without words… I knew it was GOOD, BETTER, and what a tomato should be.
Last year, and, of course, many years after this epiphany, Mom and I put the pieces of this puzzle together. We were at her college friend’s home in Oklahoma on our family, cross country extravaganza. I had sat on the hand rest in the front without a seat belt for about 2,000 miles that month! And, who would guess that later, I would take part in growing 100s of heirloom tomatoes for Tomatomania out in California. And, also discover that Yellow Pear and Matt’s Wild Cherry would become such favorites that I’ll still gladly pay top dollar for them in any store! Actually, let me retract that, I’ve never seen Matt’s Wild Cherry in a store which makes perfect sense. Those little flavor bombs are so enticing they never make it in the house, let alone to any market.
Now, I can’t wait for summer!
For some fun, check out www.tomatomania.com and dream some winter dreams of what your summer tomato garden could be.