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Jewish World Review
June 22, 2011
/ 20 Sivan, 5771
The Taste of Love
Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes,
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes?
Only two things that money can't buy --
That's true love and homegrown tomatoes....
Forget the dollar. This time of year, a different currency holds sway here in Arkansas. It circulates widely. It's carefully assayed and weighed out by judicious appraisers. It's traded freely with satisfaction guaranteed and good will all around.
In other parts of the country, dinner guests may arrive with flowers in hand or carrying dessert. But in this bountiful season here in this, the Natural State, as it says on the license plates, folks will come through the door carrying a plain brown paper sack, and inside will be nestled treasure -- red, pink, green, gold or a mixed palette of all.
It's the good old summertime, and the bounty of the land begins to flow toward dinner tables from Eudora to Eureka Springs, Cotton Plant to Smackover. (I have fallen in love with Arkansas names -- from Greasy Creek to Standard Umpstead. We've even got a Ralph, Waldo and Emerson.)
It's impossible to write about the return of this annual ritual without the taste buds perking up and a mounting sense of anticipation centered on dinnertime, or just a simple sandwich. One that reminds you that simplicity is the essence of the elegant.
All year long we wait, knowing better than to confuse those alleged tomatoes in the supermarket with the real thing. They may look like a magazine illustration, but they taste like one, too. Because they're made for looking, not eating. Now it's time to switch to the eating kind, the kind with the taste of true love, which is worth waiting for.
Like a Frenchman waiting for the first Beaujolais of the season to arrive from Burgundy, aficionados have started sampling the first tomatoes out of Arkansas this year. The early arrivals may not be full-bodied yet but maturing, rosy-hued, pink if held up to the light just right, or maybe bright red if allowed to ripen, a lovely little weight in the hand, arriving like promise itself. And now, on the cusp of summer, a promise to be fulfilled.
The season officially began with the 55th annual Pink Tomato Festival at little Warren, Arkansas. There were varieties aplenty on display but there's no tomato so distinctive, so local and so awaited during the long, drab winter as -- ta-da! -- the Bradley County Pink. You can almost hear the fanfare when you open the first lug. You know they'll be as succulent as they are ugly. The worse they look, the better they taste. That's the rule of (green) thumb with Bradley County Pinks.
As with books, you can't tell a tomato by its cover. When it comes to tomatoes, or humans for that matter, appearances can be deceiving. In another example of Gresham's Law, which holds that bad currency drives out good, the best of tomatoes has been reduced to a rarity found only in the backwoods, like bootleg hootch. It says something about how poor in taste this rich country has become that the Bradley County Pink should be almost a secret outside of Arkansas, though tomato aficionados may know and appreciate it.
I trust I'm not revealing any state secret when I note that a diet of Arkansas tomatoes -- like the Bradley County Pink -- explains the beauty of our women, the virility of our men and the remarkable appeal of our children.
All those qualities are brought out, like the first blush of the tomato, only in the fullness of time. Time is the essence of tomatoes as it is of other good things. Like writing and love.
In these latitudes, the tomato -- like barbecue -- is a subject on which all have a more than decided opinion, and will express it at the first opportunity, if not before. But as a guide, no words can compare to the first bite of the season.
Judge for yourself: Take one Bradley County Pink. Note the vivid color, the simple heft, the way it was made for the human hand. Eat no tomato before its time. And never refrigerate. Neither delay nor hurry its ripening. Neither add to nor detract from its taste, just bring it out.
Pause to appreciate the redness slowly achieved on the windowsill. Don't forget to enjoy the scent -- with eyes closed. Breathe deeply. Then slice evenly, noting the fine texture. Be careful of the juice.
No, don't taste. Not yet. Then barely sprinkle with just a little coarse salt, or make a tomato sandwich using two slices of brown bread and maybe a little, a very little, just the lightest hint, of unsalted butter, nothing more. Well, maybe a drop of olive oil. Now. Have the first bite of summer.
And you'll know what time itself tastes like. Good appetite!
Paul Greenberg Archives
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