A recent blog post about tomatoes and writing had me thinking of my father and the giant tomato.
I don’t recall the exact year—we moved into our house on 7th Avenue South in Clinton, Iowa, in 1967, I think, and lived there until 1972. It wasn’t the first year that we lived there, so sometime maybe around 1969 or 1970, while the culture at large was going more than a bit crazy, we spent the summer awaiting the ripening of the monster tomato.
My father had a small garden patch behind the house, which in my memory was fairly productive. He grew peas—the kind with edible pods, that we usually consumed raw. He grew spicy white and red radishes. He grew cucumbers, which always tasted a little bitter to me, but were OK when soaked in saltwater. He grew sweet corn, and we seemed to get a fair amount, even though the garden was not large.
And he grew tomatoes. One year, one particular red tomato grew to gargantuan size. I think it was slightly irregularly shaped—not round like most tomatoes, but a bit elongated, like a weird cross between a tomato and a cucumber. Anyway, the story doesn’t get very dramatic, the fruit just grew, we just watched, and, when it was ripe, we ate it.
Garden tomatoes were a staple of our July and August diets. Sometimes supper consisted just of sweet corn and tomatoes. We almost always ate our corn on the cob with margarine—butter was a holiday treat—but, it was sure good that way, a little salt, a little pepper, a lot of oleo and voila.
The big tomato was probably just sliced and sprinkled with salt before being consumed. In fact, one tiny snatch of memory I have is of us, my sisters and I, gathered in the kitchen, reverently watching as my father carefully sliced the Big One.
Anyway, while I love fresh garden tomatoes, I also have a particular fondness for fresh sweet corn. At our house, the water was warmed before the corn was picked. The time between harvest and cooking could be measured in seconds. You just boiled the corn for 5 minutes or so, and then ate.
Well, as an adult, I’ve come to accept that many things my father was, I am not. A vegetable gardener is one of those things. Goodness knows I have tried many times in several places I have lived, but my harvest of corn or tomatoes is almost always from a farmer’s market or the kindness of relatives.
This year, as most years, Audrey and I are trying to grow tomatoes. This is a particularly frustrating year, as the vines have grown like mad in their deck pots, and we’ve watched tomato flowers come and go—but zero fruit. No little globes of garden goodness await our tender taste buds. Why? I have no idea. It’s an annual tragedy, being again re-enacted. Every spring, we vow not to plant tomatoes because it is always thus—but we cannot help ourselves. We have 6-foot-tall barren plants. Sigh.
Beyond the few pots of tomatoes (and peppers, which we actually will get some edible harvest from), my current plot of land is totally given over to woods and woodsy flowers. I realize that shade is not compatible with vegetable gardening—but since I am not compatible with vegetable gardening, that’s OK anyway. I grow flowers and trees because I love plants and because those are the things I can grow—not because I don’t want to grow things that I can eat, but simply because if the fate of the world depended on my personal victory garden, we would all be doomed.
Anyway, besides the other blogger’s recent post, another reminder of the joys of Iowa gardens was the sweet corn (from a store!) that Audrey got this week. We cooked it and enjoyed it—and when we had the grandchildren over last night for supper and a sleepover party, little Amelia, a 1-year-old, insisted on gnawing her own ear of corn.
She’s toothy. As her mom Katy notes, it’s amazing what a little peanut she is, because she loves to eat.
It was fun to see her with the corn. Maybe the gardening gene will skip a couple of generations and maybe she’ll learn the joys of growing her own. If she does, I hope she invites me over. I’d sure be willing to help her consume her corn and tomatoes and sweet peas and bitter cucumbers, for that matter.