Pride fills gardener's heart: The tomatoes have arrived!

July 15, 1998|By Rob Kasper

The arrival of your garden's first tomato is an occasion of great, and easily exaggerated, joy.

Beaming like a proud papa, you lose all sense of perspective. You think the fact that nature has reproduced is major news. You think a news bulletin should be issued, a press conference should be called, that the world should be notified of this feat.

As you gaze at the creation, you are certain that its skin is remarkable, its shape compelling, its future full of promise.

That happened to me recently, as I admired the first ripe tomato of my garden. I went gaga over a red, curvaceous Early Girl.

Eventually, reality and the garden heat hit me. I realized that the world would little note, nor long remember the tomato that appeared here. Instead, the occasion called for a private celebration, not public ceremonies attended by heads of state. Still, I felt I had accomplished something worthwhile, something that merited kisses on the cheek and a multicolored sash emblazoned with the words "Grows Good Stuff."

Growing tomatoes gives me a sense of permanence, a feeling that, like the vegetation, I am rooted to a patch of the earth. When the tomato crop starts to come in, I get a sense of well-being, a feeling of anticipation for the salad days that lie ahead.

The other day, as I gloried in the first fruit of the summer harvest, I also recalled the travails of the spring. I remembered the dim, rain-soaked days of May that were followed by stretches of scorching heat. Some plants didn't survive that rough weather. Some tomato seeds that I had picked up during a trip to California came to mind. Those seeds got off to an enthusiastic start, sending up shoots soon after the sun warmed the soil. But these California tomato plants were mowed down a short while later by some of Maryland's vicious cutworms.

In addition, I recalled a row of beefsteak plants, so healthly looking and full of promise, that wilted, almost overnight. The loss of the beefsteaks, whose fruit I planned to match with sauteed soft crabs, hit me very hard.

Those casualties of spring are compost now. The other day as I surveyed the garden, a collection of thriving plants, heavy with green tomatoes, greeted my eyes.

On one plant I saw a flash of red, evidence of a ripe tomato. I looked at it for a long time before I picked it. When I grasped it, I realized that I was not going to be the first one to feast on this tomato. Something had taken a bite out of it.

I took this as a sign that this year's tomato crop is going to be a good one. It already had met with the approval of the local rabbits.

Tomato Salad

Serves 4

1 pound ripe tomatoes, Early Girls, Sweet 100s, Golden Jubilees, red and yellow cherry

1/2 clove garlic

1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

2 ounces mozzarella cheese

handful fresh basil leaves

Wash the tomatoes, cut out and core the top of large tomatoes, and cut into thick slices. Cut cherry tomatoes in half.

Peel the garlic and, in the bottom of a bowl, rub it against pointy tips of a fork to make a puree. Mix the vinegar and oil with the garlic. Add the tomatoes and use your hands to gently toss the tomatoes in the dressing. Season with salt and pepper.

Slice the mozzarella, put on platter or in bowl and tuck in and around the tomatoes. Scatter the basil leaves on top.

From "Fanny at Chez Panisse" by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1992)

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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