Where did the summer go? Well there are still 23 days until autumn, but those of you who love tomatoes like I do, this is a time of year when we savor every last tomato grown on our vines or in the gardens of neighbors and friends.
Some nights I tell myself, I just need one more tomato sandwich. I said that a lot during the peak season of vine-ripened juicy tomatoes as I feasted on summer’s delicacy.
Tomato sandwiches for me are just that. No bacon, no lettuce on my sandwiches. Just a couple of thick juicy slices of tomato, salt and pepper between bread and yes, Duke’s mayo. Once in a blue moon, I’ll toast my sandwich.
Although I prefer wheat bread, in the summers I have the ‘white wheat’ for tomato sandwiches.
A friend told me some years ago that his Dad would often take hot biscuits to the garden, pull fresh tomatoes from the vine, stuff the fresh biscuits with tomatoes and eat them right then and there in the garden. I’ve tried tomato biscuits, but I prefer the sandwiches.
As a kid I did pick cherry tomatoes right off the vines and eat them without a thought of washing them. In our chicken house, they grew all over.
Is there any fruit/vegetable better than a home-grown tomato?
So, I grew up loving tomatoes and never got over it. Summer lunches around our house were fresh tomatoes between two slices of white bread with mayonnaise on both sides. When the corn crop came in my three sisters and I would add a fresh piece of corn on the cob to our lunch plate. I’ve had that a couple nights for supper lately.
Growing up our family had a vegetable garden that required long hours of hard work. While our parents worked at Stonecutter Mills and Tanner Companies, it was up to us to take care of the garden during the daytime while they were at work. We did not work outside of the home as teens It was all we could do to keep up with the gardening. Yes, we were paid an allowance.
I was grown before I discovered green beans could be found on a shelf in the grocery store. Imagine my surprise at the variety of jellies also in pretty, fancy jars on grocery store shelves. I am not teasing.
In addition to the bushels of green beans we harvested, there were also peas, squash, cucumbers, lima beans, several varieties of hot and sweet peppers, corn, and rows and rows of tomatoes. The peppers became the ingredient for the best chow-chow east of the Mississippi River.
It was not unusual for our garden to contain as many as 350 tomato plants that seemingly required constant care.
Mama retired from her job at Tanner Companies at age 40 to become a full-time gardener. Daddy continued his job at Stonecutter until retirement age and then they gardened full-time. My sisters and I often helped on Saturday. Anything for fresh tomatoes.
Tomato picking was a delicate job. Daddy taught us you could only put a certain number of tomatoes in a five-gallon white bucket, so as not to bruise any of the tomatoes. Five-gallon bucket after bucket, we hauled the tomatoes from the garden to the produce shed.
Our parents wanted their produce customers who traveled from the county line to county line to have the very best possible.
Daddy and mama sold produce on the honor system. If they weren’t home, a customer simply weighed the produce and left the money in a box on the table.
Whatever vegetables weren’t sold during the summer were canned for winter. Every vegetable or fruit that could be put in a jar or a Ziplock bag was either canned or frozen.
After our parents became empty nesters, they planted even bigger gardens and established a lucrative produce business.
I happen to know farmers never get paid for all the hard work involved, but my parents were able to supplement their incomes and they loved gardening. It was therapeutic for both.
I was probably the only kid at Cool Springs Middle School back in the day to take a tomato sandwich for lunch as the school season began as the tomato season was ending. There was nothing like a soggy tomato sandwich kept safe in a locker.
A few years ago, I fell in love with tomato pies. I’ve made 10 this summer from fresh local garden-grown tomatoes.
I’ve given all but one away and I munched on that pie for about a week. They aren’t low cal, so it’s best to devour the entire pie at one sitting. It’s my all-time favorite food.
So, until next season, I’m over tomatoes, unless I find one or two grown locally.
Jean Gordon is an award-winning journalist, having spent her career with newspapers in Rutherford County, and now is a freelancer.