A FEW WEEKS ago, I was moaning about this year's tomato crop. I complained that the tomatoes were green and slow to ripen, and how overall there wasn't much to look forward to.
Now I am eating those words at almost every meal. Instead of slowing down as it reached the Labor Day weekend, local tomato production has picked up speed. You can call it either the revenge of the garden tomatoes, or you can call it the result of an unusually wet summer. But when it comes time to pick the tomatoes, you had better call for a wheelbarrow.
I went out of town on Labor Day weekend, and when I returned I had more tomatoes than the Hunt brothers. I filled a wheelbarrow with ripe tomatoes in about half an hour of picking. I picked heirlooms with fancy pedigrees, normal ole Big Boys, Sweet 100s, Pink Earlies and scores of other anonymous orbs from plants whose identifying markers had been washed away by the seemingly endless summer rains.
These late-arriving, water-filled tomatoes were soggy and cracked easily. That meant that they had to be consumed right away before spoilage set in.
In fact, some of the flashes of red that I tried to pick turned out to be tomatoes that had already made the turn from dead ripe to rotten. I reached through the leaves expecting to feel a firm tomato, and instead my fingers grasped a limp piece of tomato skin, swarming with bugs. Gardening is not for the queasy.
I was not above pausing right in the middle of tomato-picking to chow down on especially inviting-looking, or leaky, tomatoes. You are not a real gardener unless you've had mud on your feet and tomato juice running down your chin.
Even the rotten tomatoes offer their amusements. Tossing a rotten tomato over the fence without getting the stinky juice on you is a skill, like riding a bicycle, that comes back to you with a little practice.
One appeal of growing tomatoes is the chance an abundant harvest gives you to pretend to be a munificent sort. When it comes to giving away money, I am tighter than a tick. But when it comes to giving away an excess of tomatoes, I am as generous as a Washington lobbyist.
The other evening I pushed a wheelbarrow full of tomatoes around my neighborhood. I rang doorbells, pestered neighbors and stopped passers-by until the tomatoes were all spoken for.
Back home, however, there were still plenty spilling out over kitchen counters, lurking in the basement.
So every meal in our household has become a tomato-friendly event. We have had the quintessential summer sandwich - bacon, lettuce and tomato - about 400 times. We have had tuna stuffed into tomatoes about 300 times.
Any time anyone sits at our kitchen table, a plate of sliced tomatoes is immediately placed before him. We have even had tomatoes for breakfast, working them into a cheese omelet.
This year I have so many tomatoes arriving so late in the season that I am thinking of making tomato sauce. I don't have the preferred pulpy plum tomatoes, but I found a sauce recipe that uses the fat, juicy garden tomatoes.
Moreover, it says that rather than skinning and coring the tomatoes, a tiring task, I can run the cooked tomatoes through a food mill. This means I will have to go out and buy a food mill. But the prospect of having bags of fresh tomato sauce is appealing.
Besides, now that the kids are in college, the frozen pizza boxes have vamoosed, leaving plenty of room in the freezer.