I just sat down to a plate of sliced tomatoes in my dining room. I say ‘sat down,’ but it was more of a plop, the kind that starts with a crack in the knees and ends with the jelly legs I typically reserve for after a road race. And because I was seating myself on one of the folding chairs that go with our card table (I’ll get back to that in a minute), my Cosmo Kramer-style sideways slam into the chair nearly launched my plate off the table. This is how it is this month; when I am done for the day, I am DONE.
Tomato season is barely in full swing, but I cannot inhale enough of them to get ahead of the anxiety I already feel about the tomato season ending, someday. I recall that the first year we were in Arlington, I planted cherry tomatoes at our rental house and could not believe how early those little suckers stopped ripening. Thanks to my friend Emily’s advice, I had a nice experience making my first batch of pickled green tomatoes, but I’ve still never quite gotten over the shock. Maybe that’s why I do so much canning of tomatoes now.
My current favorite heirloom is something I believe is titled ‘Sweet and Juicy.’ I also like another called ‘Red Defenders.’ Or something like that. I swear they have more names for tomatoes at Verrill Farm in Concord than there are children’s names in all of Boston—a typical class will have three Ryans, three Sophies, and, who am I kidding, at least a Charlotte or five. When I am at Verrill, I love the browsing ritual my canning comrades and I participate in together, heads down scrutinizing labels but occasionally also side-eyeing each other’s selections. I imagine our slow silent march around the table like a game of musical chairs at the old folks’ home.
Tonight I salted, oiled, and basiled my tomato slices while the girls were still playing outside. I didn’t quite plan on them staying out so long, either the girls or the tomatoes, but it ended up being a blessing, as the salt and oil and acid and herbs had somehow made its own translucent sauce that was out of this world. The girls had been playing outside with the plethora of neighbor children until nearly dark before I finally called them in to shower and eat. We now live (temporarily, in a rental) on a street with an actual official road sign that reads, just, “CHILDREN,” and that doesn’t tell you the half of it. And I had been feeling pretty satisfied about my life choice to let them keep playing—until, that is, I was standing next to a too tired, too hungry, wailing Charlie outside the shower that I had just let her older sister jump into first before her even though I had a few minutes prior said that she could go first. I tried to give myself a knowing look in the mirror, but it was too fogged up.
But then, luckily, Charlie was in very quick succession scrubbed, patted dry, jammied, detangled, fed, and tucked into bed, and the fire was thusly put out before it could get to full blaze. Tomorrow I’ll make spicy tomato chutney and sweet tomato jam, both from the best book there is, Food in Jars. Then maybe Saturday we’ll be off to look for a real dining table to replace the one we left at the Goodwill back in Atlanta, which is the reason I am sitting at this card table. But for now, it is just me and my tomatoes, and I can almost hear the tiny creak of the life choices scale tipping back to balanced again.