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Made mad by tomato dreams

My wife and I devour summer's first tomato warm from the garden, juice gushing like liquid sunshine. The fake bacon is frying.

It is the traditional Bringing In Of The First Tomatoes of Summer, an event that has as its centerpiece the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. The annual rite is late this year, and my dreams have been haunted by voluptuous red globes kissed by morning dew.

It's been a long time coming. A few years back we grew tomatoes in one plot too long and the garden crashed. Then we moved and did a summer without tomatoes (oh, the cruelty). The next year we put in tomatoes that flopped from the lack of sun on our mostly shady lot. Last year we tried containers in our few bright spots, with little luck.

This year we didn't mess around. We cut out some old concrete and built a raised bed at a point that gets six or seven hours of sun, all of it after noon, the best we could do. The tomatoes have been slow and generally smallish, and there's some sunscale and blossom end rot, but a few tomatoes have ripened.

We sliced them for BLTs for the BIOTFTOS, washed some romaine leaves, sliced some New Sammy's cowboy bread and, since we haven't been eating red meat, threw into the skillet strips of a soybean product that claims to resemble bacon. So far there is no sizzle, no smell of bacon frying.

I can pretty much do the BLT thing as long as the ripe tomatoes keep coming, although my wife's enthusiasm unaccountably wavers.

"What do you feel like for dinner?"

"BLTs?"

"We had BLTs last night."

"Yeah? And?"

This spring, made mad by dreams of ruddy orbs, we built a box around an 8-foot hole we drilled out of the concrete. We framed it like a house, with 2-by-4 walls, rigid insulation between the studs, cedar planks over plywood sheathing inside and out. My theory was that containers let the plants' roots get too hot. Not this baby.

We filled it with potting soil, topsoil, compost and dried manure and trimmed it out as a place to sit and drool. It is a Taj Mahal of raised beds.

We stuck the plants deep in the bed in May, and they did the Jack-and-the-Beanstalk thing and quickly became thick-stemmed monsters. As May slipped into June, the rioting green mass set fruit. By July some withered leaves were undeniable. More alarmingly, the dreaded blossom end rot had shown its evil, leathery face. I added calcium, hoping I didn't overdo it. The hot spell came, and the plants looked scraggly moving into August.

But the first tomatoes, though runty, are delicious. And more are ripening, including several monster Brandywines among all the smallfry.

We build our sandwiches, break out the official beverage of the BIOTFTOS, which is milk, and go to bat on our BLTs.

They have a certain je ne se quois. You might describe it as sawdust and glue with grace notes of cattle feed.

The hell with it. The next day I ask the butcher for some genuine dead pig, sliced thick, and the sizzle and the sharp smell fill the house, and we have the real deal, and it is good.

Now my dreams are filled with salads, tomatoes with olive oil and feta, Parmesan tomatoes, gazpacho and spaghetti and rice-stuffed tomatoes and baked tomatoes and tomato bisque and fried green tomatoes. Grow, my beauties! The season, like the pennant races, the fate of the expanding universe, and health care for all Americans, is still too early to call. But a guy can dream.

Reach Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.