This is what summer is about: thick slices of a beautiful, homegrown tomato between two slices of bread with plenty of mayonnaise (I don’t care what brand) and eaten without regard for juice dribbling onto your chin.
Some folks say it tastes best if eaten while standing over the kitchen sink, and that is a good option, but the back porch or breakfast table works just as well, so long as napkins are available.
The one thing that really matters is that the tomato be field grown and preferably vine-ripened, and that it has never been within shouting distance of a hot house.
Hydroponics has come a long way, and greenhouse gurus can grow some beautiful cherry-red tomatoes year-round beneath their plastic arches, but appearance does little to mask the taste of cardboard and the consistency of Styrofoam – or so it has been in my experience.
It’s hard not to wax euphoric over the first bite of each season’s first good homegrown sandwich, or break into song like John Denver performing a Guy Clark classic:
Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes,
What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes?
Only two things that money can’t buy …
That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.
I’ll spare you the verses, but you can hear Clark perform a long-play version here if you like.
By now, I suspect some readers might be saying, “Methinks he doth go on too much about his piddly plantings,” and they might be right.
The time and effort we put into our little garden may not make a lot of economic sense, but for Susan and me, it helps to keep us grounded and a bit more in tune with the earth (puns present but not intended).
Tilling the soil, planting the seeds, cultivating the plants, and watching things grow provide as much food for the soul as for the table.
Knowing the plants are also sucking carbon dioxide from the air is a bonus.
Our squash, zucchini, and green beans will soon play out, but the tomatoes are just coming on strong. The bell peppers were a bust this year (I’m blaming the plant variety), but the okra is looking good, and once we clear out the first run, we’ll plant peas and collards that will grow well into the fall.
We’re also awash in figs: I’ve put up fig jam while Susan has made fig and banana bread. Figs are delicious straight from the tree and warm from the sun, but even better when split and garnished with goat cheese, walnuts, honey, and a bit of bacon.
My late friend, Johnny Brown, would say that’s good enough to make you slap your mama. But I digress.
One thing I’ve noticed about tomatoes is that it doesn’t seem to matter how early in April I plant them, they never get ripe until the week of July 4. Strangely, even global warming hasn’t changed that – so far, at least.
But climate change has wrought havoc to so many other things. The searing heat waves that have broiled the West and baked marine life and fueled raging wildfires this summer are not just rare flukes of nature.
Like the increased number and intensity of hurricanes that plague the South and East, they have been directly influenced by human activity. We’ve put too much stuff into the air for too long, and only the most determined of ostriches can keep their heads in the sand about what lies ahead.
Doing something about that requires consistent political action and courage in high places. Cries from activists are not enough; change won’t happen without popular support from people willing to reduce their own carbon footprints and to elect policymakers who will trust the science and make the painful decisions necessary for a better future.
How else will our grandchildren ever taste a homegrown tomato?
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.