Alas, this would be a better post in early summer, but this is my pilgrimage story that I told at my cockTALE party. You are ready for storytelling this Thanksgiving, right? The theme is FOOD. Tell a five minute or less story about food and ask everyone else to share one too. I'll post mine next week. Enjoy your holiday!
In my mind, the perfect tomato is big, as big as a grown-man's fist. It is deep red, firm. It is cut length wise into thick rounds and it is sprinkled with salt and pepper. I encountered such a tomato for the first time when I was five. It was in Fresno, and it came straight from my great-aunt Minnie's garden. Minnie was my grandpa's sister, and she had made an enormous luncheon because my mother had brought us to visit from Utah. I had never met my aunt Minnie or most of the people sitting at that table, but I ate tomato slice after tomato slice and I felt not only perfectly happy but also enthralled with the larger world those tomatoes introduced me to--a world that did not consist of frozen corn, frozen peas.
I did not have tomatoes that delicious again until we moved to Northern California some years later and I had my grandfather's tomatoes. He grew them every year, and he grew so many that all summer long he would give us big grocery sacks full of them and we would eat them every night. By the end of the summer we would be unimpressed---pleased to have them and always ready to eat them, but also bored by how pedestrian they had become. We were like Adam and Eve. We didn't even know we were living in paradise until we were kicked out. Although that's not quite true because I did know how good I had at. For as long as I had my grandpa's tomatoes and a good decade afterward, I refused to buy supermarket tomatoes. I found them offensive in the same way that a lover of Michelangelo might be offended by a paper-clip sculpture I put on a pedestal and call La Pieta.
But as the Buddha tells us, change is constant. And my tomato paradise that I took for granted could not last forever. Eventually, I settled in Southern California and my grandpa moved to a retirement home. One day, I went to the grocery store, and I bought tomatoes. Then I went again, and soon I didn't even notice how bland they were.
But when we moved to my house, I slowly began my pilgrimage back to the perfect tomato. My first attempts failed, the tomatoes I produced tasting watery and tough. But I persevered, learning more, getting stronger as I journeyed longer. Now I have raised vegetable beds. I flirt with homegrown lettuce and basil, but those are trifles. Everything I do with those beds, from what I grow and where I grow it is really all about growing tomatoes. Last spring I literally went to an event called "Tomatomania" to buy my seedlings. And I can tell you that this year I produced really outstanding tomatoes.
But my tomatoes are not as good as my grandpa's or his sister's. So I pilgrim on, always hopeful that each new summer will give me tomatoes like the ones I had growing up. But I wonder if I ever will, and not only because I lack the heightened taste buds of a five year old, but because those first tomatoes were always more than tomatoes. They were my grandpa. They were his sister. And now that they are gone I wonder if, as good as it is, a tomato is just a tomato.