The Idea of a Tomato


It was a long, but lovely day. Spring has burst its seams, and we spent the morning visiting with family before heading out to the country. I beat Harry out there, so I headed down to the gardens and planted 14 hills (actually, they’re divots–not hills) of four varieties of summer squash, plus fourteen divots Minnesota Midget melons (this is a single-serving cantaloupe that does well in our unpredictable climate).

If you’re wondering why divots instead of hills–I do a lot of planting to conserve and collect moisture. Raised beds and hills are great if you need to increase drainage, but I tend to loosen the soil well enough that that’s not a problem. I’m more worried about things drying out than staying too moist.

As I hadn’t yet seen Harry (we’d made a mushroom-hunting date), I started digging holes along the cattle panel trellis erected last week. Twenty-four holes, twenty-four tomatoes. I had a wheelbarrow full of a sloppy manure tea (Thursday night’s storm contributed the rainwater), and I used that to get in a variety of cherry, slicing, and paste varieties.

That puts me up to 92 plants–though I haven’t yet gotten in any Zapotecs and Black from Tulas yet, and I do have a few more of most of the varieties I’ve already stuck in. I am thinking those will go somewhere in the no-man’s land between the eastern and northeastern gardens sometime this week.

Then there was that mushroom-hunting date. I generally don’t like to hunt with other people, as it throws off my mushroom mojo. So, when Harry started finding a few that I’d overlooked, I headed off to a different area.

Problem is, where we hunt, you can wander for hours and get a little turned around. One minute you know precisely where you are, and then you get so focused on the ground that you look up and realize you’re in a totally different place. I didn’t find anything for the first hour I was out there, and had just started making my way back when I stumbled upon a patch of morels half hidden under the new foliage. Then I couldn’t stop looking.

I finally wandered back about 2 1/2 hours after we’d set out, thirsty and hot and ready for a cold drink. Headed home with our stash, which is now drying in the dehydrator (I lost a couple from the first hunt to rot–not taking that chance again). I poured myself a gin and tonic and started thinking about supper. Then I started thinking that if I finished that gin and tonic I might not get around to supper, so I headed up to Jones’ with one thought in mind: grinders.

Grinders is the term for hoagies, or sub sandwiches, that I grew up with. When the thermometer hit the mid-eighties, our summer meal plans were usually big, cold, elaborate sandwiches. Sometimes we ordered them, but my favorite was when we got all kinds of fixin’s and made our own at home.

So, I asked the deli guys to slice a half pound of three meats and three cheeses, and while they were doing that, I grabbed up some Kaiser rolls (couldn’t find sub rolls), some red wine vinaigrette dressing, alfalfa sprouts, and a fake tomato.

There is no such thing as a real tomato this time of year, unless you happen to have leftover canned versions in your pantry. There is definitely no such thing as a “fresh” tomato. But, I am not always such a purist. About once a year, when the temperatures climb and the urge for a hoagie hits, the idea of a tomato is enough.

This may draw gasps of dismay from some, but you know, if I’d gone up to the deli and ordered a sandwich, or I’d gone anyplace else and ordered a hamburger or chicken sandwich, I’d have gotten the same thing. Lettuce may grow virtually all year round in these parts, and an onion is almost always easy to come by, but the “T” in BLT is a three-month window of tropical enchantment for us.

So I bought the fake tomato, which probably contains genetic material from some foreign species to boot. But it looks OK on my sandwich, and with all the other ingredients, its lack of flavor isn’t that noticeable.

I guess I comfort myself with the fact that my buying one or two fake tomatoes once a year isn’t going to keep them stocking the shelves with them. And that once-a-year folly makes me realize, for at least another 12 months, that a real tomato is worth the wait.

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