And so it was that I looked upon the beautiful pink orbs, nestled in an old oblong china dish from Grandma Fern, and I weighed the likelihood that anyone in my family would notice the tomatoes missing.
No chance at all. I live in a world where the fresh food goes unnoticed until the packing of school lunches, the quiz in which I ask, “did you pack a fruit and a vegetable and a protein?” Yes mom, yes mom, yes. No mom, the apples and bananas are all gone. Scott buys them little disposable cups of fruit cocktail, and I would rail against the waste of money and plastic, but I’ve seen them open the wee cups and sip the juice, first, before tucking into the fruit. My children do not drink liquid unless forced, so I concede to the little wasteful cups. I too am fond of the papaya chunks. God alone knows what preservatives rest in there. I close my eyes to the issue: they drink, and they eat fruit. And they leave me the perishable items which don’t pack well.
Dear God, the tomatoes! The last tomatoes from the last farmers market of the year, heavy, not orange or red but pink, art-worthy tomatoes. Heaven forbid that they go bad, waiting for someone to find an appetite. On Sunday I sliced one for a sandwich of grainy bread, goat cheese, and basil. I ate two such sandwiches, leaving half the tomato next to the cutting board with a knife. No one touched it, despite my announcements. I found a container and sealed it away tightly in the frig, but it can't last, there.
I’m allergic to fresh tomatoes. If I stop at half a tomato, two sandwiches, the sandpapery sensation will be mild, like I burned my tongue but not badly. If I continue to nibble tomatoes, red fissures form as the result of my rich tastes, followed by blisters and several days with a wounded tongue. Cherry tomatoes, so easy to snack on, must be rationed, first, then hidden behind something else in the refrigerator so I don't grab another handful.
Andalusian Gazpacho is the tomato glorified, pureed with fresh bread and a touch of garlic. Not a Mexican gazpacho, not spicy, this soup is not home to any other vegetables, no peppers, no cucumbers, no onions. Just tomato, olive oil, a splash of vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and a few ice cubes to chill it. I remember the first taste of it, how ugly the color, how the soup stood up in the bowl at The Walnut Street Café in Erie, Pennsylvania. The restaurant didn't last a year, but the memory stays.
Today the whole glass of sweet gazpacho sits before me, two and a half pink tomatoes’ worth to be drunk slowly, rolling the summer in my mouth while watching the boats in the harbor. I walk back to the kitchen to scrape the blender clean, remembering not to stick my fingers under the sharp blades. Sorely tempted to find that one last spoonful. The blisters rise; I have accepted it.
Too often my solo meals consist of peanut butter from a spoon, or a handful of trail mix, now that green beans are not in season. Inelegant non-meals, anti-meals. The late summer lettuce is long withered, and I don’t know how long the fresh basil will hold out in my windowsill. How much more should I take the price of life and endure it? How much more ought I pour love into a glass and drink, despite the cost? Drink, while the season lingers for one more moment.
A toast, then, to the fall harvest and what comes next. A toast to the passing of summer fruits. I will remember these tomatoes for the next few days of sandpapery tastes and stinging, my last late-summer extravagance. I will not repent this tall glass, well worth the expense.