Book Excerpt: Heirlooms

I cannot describe the longing I have for garden tomatoes. For me, they define the summer and the lesson we learn about having patience to wait for the good things in life. This year I planted 10 plants, hoping to be lousy with tomatoes by this time of the year. We’ve harvested a few but I’m still waiting. Since I don’t know any sun dances I’m posting this in the hopes that we’ll get some ripe tomatoes this year. And if anyone knows how to speed the process, please let me know!

The plants grew along the back and side of the house, to get the southern and western sun. We grew tomatoes and zucchini every year in back. Sometimes we planted green peppers, eggplant, cucumbers or string beans. The side garden held tomato overflow and every summer I would plant the bottoms of some scallions at the end, near the chimney, after we’d eaten the tops. The mint patch abutted the side garden, but it never encroached on the tomatoes.

Beginning in August, I’d survey the garden daily, looking for precious patches of orange, then pink, more pink, darker pink, and finally red. “Mommy!” I’d scream, yanking open the wood screen door and rounding the corner to the kitchen, “We have tomatoes!”

“Really?” She’d follow me outside. “Where?”

“Right there, Mommy!” I pointed.

“Where? Oh yeeaah, there it is. It’s red, all right.”

“Can I pick it?”

“Are you sure it’s ripe? Could get redder, you know.”

“Please, can I pick it?”

“Go ahead, Honey.”

I ran to the patio and bent the stake at the end of the chicken-wire fence, squeezed behind it, and tiptoed around the plants to get to the right one. “Here it is, Mommy!”

“Go ahead. Pick it.” I wrapped my hand around its warm skin, feeling its delicate heft, and plucked it from the vine.

“Got it! Can I make a sandwich?”

“You can do whatever you want, Honey,” Mom said.

I went inside and pulled out two slices of white bread. “Cut it for me, please!” I said. My mom ran it under the sink and cut out the stem part in a little cone with the little knife she used for everything. I got the mayonnaise out of the fridge. She cut the tomato into round slices.

“Be right back!” I said, running out the back door.” I headed to the side garden and pinched off two scallions, then ran back inside, clutching them in my fist. At the table, I laid out both slices of bread, spread them with mayonnaise and ripped the scallions to fit the sandwich, laying them on the left-hand slice. Mom brought over the tomato slices and I laid two slices on top of the scallions, decided the sandwich could take one more and added it. I topped it with the other slice of bread and took a bite. The soft bread, the warm sweet and sour of the tomato, the creamy mayonnaise and the tang of the scallions combined into the sweet, lazy flavor of summer.

We also made tomato salads. My current favorite recipe is one ripe heirloom tomato, cut in small 1/8 wedges, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, heavily salt, lightly pepper and add fresh oregano. Oriste!