Whoever said “let the world be your oyster” was definitely a man. No woman would wish upon the world that it be encased in a stoutly guarded shell which could only be opened by killing the occupant, and that upon being opened one would find a briny, slimy, gag-inducing piece of innards. Of course it was a man, man being used to conquering his food, whilst women spent their time in the garden. A woman would much more likely say ‘let the world be your Lycopersicon lycopersicum!’ Women like to be specific. But that doesn’t mean that there is a more lyrically perfect fruit than a tomato. Oh, peaches definitely have their fuzzy, sticky-sweet charm, as do simple apples and exotic star fruit, and there’s no reason to underrate the tomato’s natural partner, the cucumber, but for all-around versatility and taste, let the record show that tomatoes, should they be grown in a home garden, of an heirloom stock (god forbid we include those pink baseballs you get at the store, grown in the fruity little forced-labor camps cum assembly-lines that is commercial agriculture), can not be beat. What other fruit, I ask, can star in such disparate and iconic dishes as spaghetti, gazpacho, BLTs, tomato soup, tomato breakfast quiche, fried green tomatoes, and of course, salsa. Not a kiwi, let me tell you.
If you are lucky enough to live where you can grow your own, you can pluck them right off the vine and pleasure yourself on the sun-warmed, smeary mash of blood-red flesh, either right there in the garden with the juices staining your face and arms or, if you prefer, sliced, served on a plate on the screened-in porch for lunch with a tickling of salt, followed by some crusty Italian bread and fresh cheese. Either way, tomatoes are good. I grew a lot of them this summer, even though it was a challenge at this altitude, in this shaded valley, with all these pesky deer. The deer around here would eat artillery, if you planted it, watered it and wanted it to grow. Tomatoes are poisonous to deer, but I’ve had deer climb up six steps onto a porch in the dead of night to eat the suckers. They take one bite of each succulent orb, spit it out, and move to the next, ruining the entire plant full of fruit and then ruin another before stalking away in disgust, wondering why they even bother.
And should a person be so inclined to engage in horticultural battle with the deer, then there are also the cool nights, late and early frosts and lack of sunlight to reckon with, but I’m no quitter. I got a couple of hardy new Czech varieties this year, thinking that after what happened in 1968, those Czechs know a thing or two about stoicism and survival. Not only that but in the forty subsequent years it hasn’t gotten all that much better for them, so they probably learned to imbue their tomato varieties with just the kind of stubborn valor that I need in a tomato, so long as I’m not going to rely on those sissy crutches like grow-lights, heat and, well, you know…attention. I need my tomatoes to pretty much take care of themselves.
And they did, bless their fruity little hearts. Never in my entire tenure in Montana have I lived in a worse place for tomatoes, and never have I gotten a better crop. I still have tomatoes on the vine right now, at the end of October, which I can pluck whenever I want. Oh, granted it won’t last long; since I brought them in they got some aphids, they sort of pined for actual sunlight, someone forgot to water them regularly (Allie!? What is your problem? You’re the one who’s home all day, lolling about… oh, don’t bring up the tired old “opposable thumb” argument. I’ve seen what you can do to a trash can that has a smattering of salmon in it. You can do it. Yes you can.), and you know how it goes – for every thing, turn, turn, turn- and all that. But I’ve got not only a freezer-full of them, but great baskets of them waiting in my fridge for their salad days.
None of them grew much bigger than ping-pong ball size, and none were cherry-tomato size, either, so I suspect that’s the natural size of sturdy Czech tomatoes. Who needs beefsteaks, anyway? Those you have to slice up, and anyone who’s been up late at night knows that unless you have a set of Ginsu knives (order now and get this handsome carrying case FREE with no obligation! Call now!), slicing tomatoes with an ordinary knife can lead to ungainly results, with tomato guts smeared all over your salad. No need to cut Czech tomatoes up at all, but since you can’t comfortably fit a whole one in your mouth, you get to chomp down on it. And then you get to wait for the inevitable release of internal tomato pressure through the opposite side to your chomping, whereupon the library book you’d been reading will become splattered. Better yet, you could be attending to important papers from your office whilst chomping, and then the evidence of your wanton tomato lust would be enshrined for all to see, forever. It’ll be worth the fastidious look on your boss’s and the librarian’s faces, as they brush their offended hands over the orange stains which stick a sullen tomato seed to the page with the adherence of glue. One day the nuclear winter will end when a library-book hatches a little Czech tomato, and then, there will be light.