“August is the cruelest month / breeding tomatoes out of the green land, / mixing hunger with desire, / stirring my stomach with red globes / filled with the sun’s rays.” — T.S. Eliot
Late August, a turning point. Summer teetering on its long legs, delirious with spent heat, drunk with ripeness, ready to fall. Unexpectedly warm days like memoirs of June flirt with September’s impinging chill. It’s my first full summer to fall transition here in central New York, and I don’t really know what to expect. My Canadian urge to wrap myself in sweaters at this time of year is consistently fought off by summer’s persistence.
A summer I am happy to enjoy so long as she keeps bringing me her ruby gifts.
Yesterday’s gift, an heirloom tomato. Or, as I saw on a sign at the market on Saturday, an example of “what tomatoes used to taste like” before they were domesticated and shipped thousands of miles still in their green skin. I can’t remember what cultivar exactly this one is, but it sprung from seeds saved by friends and generously passed on to me in the spring.
Heirlooms, often scarred and sometimes bulbous, make up for their “ugliness” in taste. Fleshy and meaty and with few watery bits, it seems like they were made for the Toasted Tomato Sandwich: Queen of August lunches. This particular one wasn’t the ultimate, but I grew it myself, and that more than made up for what it lacked in taste.
There’s such pleasure in watching food happen right under your fingertips. Nurturing the seedlings and then transplanting them to the wider world of the garden. Tomato plants yield an almost overnight jungle, which in the face of other failed crops (radishes, beets and peas) provide much-needed satisfaction for rookie gardeners like myself. Witnessing their small buds break open in the early summer and then turn to green globes is a procession full of mouth-watering expectation. The red rewards are now just beginning to emerge.
As a child, the Toasted Tomato Sandwich (TTS) was synonymous with summer. Known in other households as the BLT, in ours the presence of bacon was a once in awhile treat. As ubiquitous in our home as Kraft dinner was in most, the TTS was usually served on the softest of white bread, either rye or my mother’s homemade. Sometimes smothered with Miracle Whip for a tangier bite than mayonnaise, the simple harmony of flavors was unmatched in our sandwich world. Bread, mayo, tomato, salt and pepper: Childhood summers suddenly tangible.
As I got older I experimented with whole leaves of basil, sprouts, different lettuces, and more grainy breads. But the taste of a soft white bread (in yesterday’s case, Panera’s sunflower loaf) caramelized slightly in the toaster, three thick slices of home-grown tomato, and the rare touch of crisp bacon was a taste I wished could’ve lasted all day long. Ever as satisfying, I was instantly transported to a sunny kitchen in small-town Manitoba.
As T.S. Eliot suggests, my stomach felt full of the sun’s rays indeed. And as we march steadily into fall, I hope the red globes — just beginning to peek through foliage in my garden — will help keep me sunny for weeks to come.