At the age of five, I would sit across from him in my grandparents’ cozy kitchen nook as he would slice thick, juicy beefsteak tomatoes—that he grew in his own tomato patch—for our summer snack. He heavily salted and lightly peppered the tomatoes before placing a little stack on my plate then his.
Grandpa is a man of little words, and our tomato experience always took place in silence. But those moments of plucking a tomato from the vine, rinsing it under cold sink water, handing it to him for the slicing, and quietly eating tomatoes—sometimes with a fork and knife, sometimes with our fingers—are some of my most vivid, treasured childhood memories.
Since then I have always been a fan of the tomato, it’s just that my commitment as a fan has wavered. As processed foods started becoming the norm, I ate less backyard garden tomatoes and more canned or grocery store tomatoes, which, quite frankly, are flavorless. For two decades I considered tomatoes to be something you add to a recipe, not the main attraction.
That was until I tasted my first heirloom tomato from a local organic gardener. After the first bite of a heavily salted, lightly peppered Cherokee Purple, I could feel the sun stretch through my grandparents’ kitchen window and see my grandpa’s immediate smile of satisfaction that was always followed by a slight nod. In fact, I’m sure I had the same reaction. Or at least I like to imagine I did.
For the past several years I’ve made the commitment to only buy fresh tomatoes during their peak months and from local growers. Luckily for us, there is a local grower and canner that sells to Northwestern Ohio supermarkets, and they get us through the winter. But nothing compares to that first vine ripe tomato of summer and all the great recipes that showcase tomatoes, such as gazpacho; tomato, fresh mozz, basil salads; homemade salsa; homemade pasta sauce; grilled ratatouille; and so on and on.
This month From Plate to Palate praises the tomato. From the hefty Beefsteaks to the dreamy Yellow Oxheart, the tomato is center stage. But even more special than giving props to the tomato is how this issue has come together—organically. Without knowing it all of the contributors touched on similar themes, ideas, and notions. In Bryan Gattozzi’s and Callista Buchen’s pieces, the tomato brings families together. It has the ability to shape our memories, which Karen Babine gracefully expresses. And it’s one food with enough variety to make a tomato lover out of a tomato skeptic like Kristin Abraham. But all the contributors, including Melissa Askren Edgehouse, give testimony to the awesome meals created with one truly divine summer vegetable. (Or fruit?)
Even more than this issue, I hope you enjoy a freshly picked-from-the-vine tomato this last month of summer.
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