In the news business, the most important story is the one that happened next door.
In science, some of the greatest discoveries have occurred when someone outside the field "peered over the garden wall" and made a remarkable observation.
Still, it surprised me when the best green tomatoes I have ever eaten came to me over the backyard fence. These magnificent tomatoes, fried in lard and sprinkled with brown sugar, came from my next door neighbor, Hadgie Marshall.
It was supposed to have been an exchange deal. I was going to provide my neighbor with a basket of green tomatoes from my garden. She, in turn, would cook the tomatoes and give some to me.
I was especially pleased with this arrangement because in addition to landing me something good to eat, it also provided me with a way to unload my green tomatoes.
I had a bumper crop of green tomatoes. As a matter of fact my tomato plants yielded more green ones than red ones. This was not the goal.
In the summer I regularly surveyed my tomato plants. I would see bunches of green tomatoes hanging from the vines. It made me feel good. I smiled at the thought that better days, and red tomatoes, would soon be coming.
It never happened. After weeks of budding expectations, the tomatoes stopped working. They re
fused to get ripe. Their behavior reminded me of the way White House types have been handling the federal budget deficit. There have been many flowery promises, with nothing coming to fruition.
So not long ago my 5-year-old and I ripped out the tomato plants and it rained green tomatoes. I collected them, and after talking with my neighbor, I left the tomatoes in a bag hanging on the fence between our backyards.
A few days later my neighbor called me to say that her tomato dish was ready to eat. She also said she had not used my tomatoes to fix it. My green tomatoes were too green, she said, explaining the kind she liked to cook were pinkish. "Blushing," as she said. She got some such blushing tomatoes from her daughter, Jeanee Jones, who lives on a farm in Glen Rock, Pa. Unlike my hardened city tomatoes, these farm tomatoes were perfect blushers.
She wanted tomatoes that were firm enough to slice, yet didn't taste like paste. My neighbor didn't put it that bluntly, because she did not want to insult my tomatoes.
But she did give my tomatoes back to me. She had put them in a foam chest, with a lid on it. She had also had put a red apple inside the chest. The apple was supposed to help the tomatoes ripen.
The red apple, I guess was supposed to serve as a role model for the tomatoes. It gave them the idea of what they were supposed to look like. It must be an old farm trick. Next year if my tomatoes go into their we-don't-know-how-to-ripen routine, I might put some red apples on the tomato stakes to help the tomatoes along.
My neighbor also handed me a pan of cooked tomatoes. I promptly carried the pan into the kitchen and ate the tomatoes for supper.
They were wonderful. They were flavored with brown sugar, yet they still had some real tomato flavor.
Later she told me how she had made them. First she sliced them. The theory is the riper the tomato, the thicker the slice. These blushers were about 1/2 - to 3/4 -inch thick. Next she dipped one side of thetomatoes in flour and sprinkled salt and pepper on the floured side.
Then she dropped them, floured side down, in a black skillet sizzling with hot lard. Sometimes, she said, she uses bacon grease instead of lard. As she browned one side of the tomato she added flour and salt but no pepper to the other side, then flipped it. When both sides were brown she removed the tomatoes from the pan.
Then she stacked the tomato slices in a cake pan with high sides, putting a generous pinch of brown sugar between each layer.
They looked like tomato towers and I leveled several.
Since I have already pulled out my tomato plants, I can't go out DTC in the garden and watch my green tomatoes trying to turn red.
Instead I go in the basement and check the green tomatoes in the foam chest.
I eye the them, and when I see one blushing, I lick my lips.