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Front Porch: Tomatoes are a summer favorite

Iam a person that associates scents with events in my life.

I really don’t know if there is some psychological or even technical name for it. For example, the smell of cinnamon and sugar reminds me of my mother. Momma was, and still is, a big baker. When we were little and she would bake, we got elephant ears — the leftover pie dough sprinkled with butter, sugar and cinnamon. That particular scent causes my olfactory senses to work overtime, remembering that flaky, Crisco-infused dough and how it would melt in your mouth.

Another is coffee. The smell of freshly brewed coffee or the moment you open a bag or can of vacuum-packed coffee actually makes my mouth water. When Momma was pregnant with me, coffee made her deathly ill, so she didn’t drink any. She often tells me that from the time I was big enough to grab a cup, I would try a sip. I learned at an early age how to make coffee and how to drink it. I liked it any way it was served — black, cream or sugar, hot or cold.

As the summer progresses, the promise of the hot summer sun brings with it the smell of ripe tomatoes. These orbs of red, orange, yellow and pink mark the true arrival of summer. Their chin-dripping flavor runs like sweet water down my face.

When I was young and our garden was heavy with thick branches laden with hundreds of Tommy Toes, we would go out into the garden, Tupperware salt shaker in hand, and eat until we were stuffed and the miniature seeds were plastered on the front of our shirts.

Last year, I decided to plant tomatoes beside our foundation. I bought heirloom tomato plants from the Clark County Public Library, Debbie Barnes at Barnes Family Greenhouse and Mike Reece, tomato grower extraordinaire. This area’s soil was black and the worms had worked magic on it for years. I painstakingly planted each plant and said a little prayer over each one asking for plenty of tomatoes to share with neighbors and friends.

When my husband came home from golfing one day and saw where I had put the plants, he laughed out loud. He said there was no way the plants would grow there. I, too, had doubts, but there is that magic called faith. I knew my plants would grow and provide a harvest.

Weeks passed and the tomatoes began blooming. The honey bees buzzed around the yellow blooms, the soft summer rains sent the water that plants need rather than a hose and my beautiful tomatoes grew and grew. The scent of those tomatoes with all their earthly wonder hit my nose each time I opened the side door. Soon, golf-ball size tomatoes grew with varying shades of red and pink.

My growing project was a success and instead of my husband eating his words, he was eating my tomatoes. That small strip of five tomato plants kept my family and friends in tomatoes until the end of October when the first frost gave its kiss of death.

There truly is nothing better than a vine-ripened tomato when in season. While it is still a little too early for tomatoes unless one is lucky enough for a greenhouse, these fruits provide proof of summer’s sweet promise. Cooked, fried, or eaten directly from the vine, tomatoes are a constant. They invoke memories of summers past and summers yet to come, and the promise of juicy goodness.

“I buy local tomatoes because it’s one thing I can do.

Because it turns my heart to others.

It reminds me to pray.

It reminds me to notice.” (Addie Zierman)

While I detest hot-house tomatoes, I recently did find this recipe from Nigella Lawson that even made them taste amazing. I cannot wait to try it with “good” tomatoes.

Egyptian Tomato Salad

5 medium sized tomatoes

1 shallot peeled

1 clove of garlic peeled

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

salt

pepper

1 good squeeze of lemon juice

1 handful fresh chopped chervil (I substituted fresh parsley. Who grows chervil?)

Chop shallot and garlic as finely as humanly possible. Put in bowl with oil, salt, and pepper and leave to steep while you blanche tomatoes.

Peel skins and arrange tomatoes in a dish and pour dressing over tomatoes.

Let sit for a couple of hours on counter. When ready to serve squeeze lemon juice, a little more salt, and fresh parsley chopped. (I also added some fresh basil.)

There is one rule that is inflexible with this salad—it must not go into the refrigerator. It must be served room temperature.

Lisa Johns is a former teacher and librarian as well as an activist for revitalizing downtown Winchester.