At the end of spring this year my family and I attended an heirloom tomato event. We love tomato season here, and heirloom tomatoes hold a very special place in our diets this time of year. My wife and I purchased six different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. We gave one to my parents and nursed the rest along in big black pots, even through our move from the nightmare house to here.
Once we moved here, they had to go in a funny spot on the side of the house in order to get enough light. Unfortunately, our summer arrived late and was ushered in with obscene amounts of rain. Our poor tomatoes weren’t doing well. It wasn’t until mid summer when they started to show signs that they might fruit. The most prolific early on was a sungold tomato plant–a yellow/orange cherry tomato that is so wonderfully sweet that we eat them like candy.
Well, we don’t eat them like candy. Our son does.
A month or so ago, when the fruit started ripening, our son began stealing our tomatoes. They would ripen one, two, three at a time, and he would snatch them up, shove them in his mouth, and come back around to the backyard, dripping with tomato juice, grinning with such pride. When he ran out of truly orange tomatoes, he would go back and pick the ones that were slightly orange, carefully plucking off the stems and popping the tart little orbs in his mouth. And when that wasn’t enough, he would go for the lightest of the green. Somehow, he has an innate sense for the cycle of tomato ripening. We never taught him this.
While my wife and I were a little bummed that we weren’t getting to experience this sweet little harvest, we were also delighted that our boy was so fond of them. I have never seen this boy move so quickly as when he remembers that there are tomatoes that may be ripe. When we go outside, he bolts for the side of the house chanting, “One tomato! One tomato!” (because we have told him one tomato is all he can have). There have been just a few occasions when he has brought “one tomato” to me or my wife, and we have relished the tiny tastes we’ve been offered up. But there is no mistaking these are our son’s tomatoes, and we have accepted this. He has eaten 97% of them.
Now, however, the bigger varieties are starting to ripen. We have a beefsteak plant that is dripping with fruit. They certainly aren’t beefsteak size, but they are going to be good. We know this because our son has already picked two of them, eating them like small apples. Both were still just blushing, not quite red, but he buried his face in them like they were his very own ambrosia. How could we deny him such a pleasure?
Still, we have hit a point at which we would like to begin enjoying a few of these tomatoes as they ripen. This means getting out there early, picking them before they’re ripe, or keeping our son locked indoors, away from the tomatoes, which seems just cruel these last weeks of summer.
Just yesterday, we discovered that our first pineapple tomato was ripe. I ran toward it, racing my son who had spotted it at the same time. I plucked it from the vine and carefully carried it into the house, placing it high out of his reach on the kitchen windowsill–because it needed just one more day before we ate it.
Later that day, I wanted a photo of it (this may very well be the only tomato that makes it into the house), so I placed it on the table. Only moments after snapping the photo, a little hand popped up, ready to grab it. I rescued the poor thing and put it back into the window, offering BG a consolation prize of his choice of any tomato from a whole box of romas his grandparents picked us from their garden.
I have kept this one tomato, our one tomato, safe until tonight, when my wife and I could no longer resist. Our son was in bed, and we looked at the thing. Its size is far from impressive, but it was the perfect color and firmness. I knew it was time. We sliced into it, and ate it one succulent bite at a time. It was worth the sacrifice of every last one of those sungolds and even the two small beefsteaks. It was heavenly and sweet and complex.
But you know, while my wife and I relished every moment of that tomato, I can’t help but think that my son would really have loved this one. There are only four on this plant. Maybe I’ll let him beat me to just one of them.