Saturday, October 01, 2011

Forbidden Fruit

how was it that they chose
an apple hard crisp

to represent the forbidden fruit

seeds dried, black

-- impenetrable, inedible

i would have chosen

something like a tomato

warm, fleshy, moist

lover's thighs, mouth, breasts

ripe, red

don't you think it more apropos?

drinking of its wetness

dripping seeds
vulnerable like the rest of us?

That's a poem I wrote when I was 18 or 19, but my love affair with the solanum lycopersicum, the "swelling fruit." the "golden apple," goes way back. In fact, I cannot remember a time when the tomato was NOT my favorite fruit and vegetable. (It is botanically a fruit, but "legally" a vegetable, at least in the United States. Leave it to Americans to have "legal" definitions for produce.)

I tried to grow a tomato when I was in grade school. Maybe fourth grade. I wasn't much good at taking care of things back then and had a long and terrible history of killing everything I looked after: turtles, canaries, goldfish..... But I managed to get one beautiful giant tomato out of the plant. It thrilled me to no end. I could not bear to eat it. I sniffed it endlessly. (I still think there's nothing better than the smell of a beautiful ripe tomato!) I tied it to a string on the end of a pole and swung the tomato around and around. My tying skills were crappy, too, and in no time at all, the tomato came loose and SPLAT! Onto the concrete patio it went. I cried. "I never got to taste it!"

My paternal grandmother, who lived in Kyushu during her last few decades, had a small farm around her house. She grew the most awesome white peaches -- big, juicy and sweeter than sweet -- but now that I think of it, everything she grew was awesome, including her tomatoes. We only visited her place a few times, and only for a few days each time, but I loved being in the garden with my grandmother. I loved eating the just-picked tomatoes right there in the garden with her. Not only was the taste unbelievably wonderful, but over the years, my memory has warped the taste into something mythical. My own homegrown tomatoes can never compare. But I try!

My grandmother was a tough old bird -- uncharacteristically direct for a Japanese, as well as completely independent. She didn't seem to have much of a maternal instinct and was never very affectionate, either with her children or theirs, but she must have poured love into her garden. Unlike my maternal grandmother, she never doted on me, never bought thoughtful little gifts, never played "house" or other silly kid games with me, but she gave me her love of growing things, her love of art and poetry, her connection with nature. It just took decades for these gifts to mature.

But back to the tomato.

"Cherry tomatoes are easy!" swore Big Dog, back when we lived in the middle of Tokyo. So I got a planter and once again tried my hand at growing my favorite fruit/vegetable. Tokyo summers are hot and humid and the plant grew and grew. It was quite an impressive plant, with lots of little yellow flowers. But the flower kept wilting and falling without producing that little swell, the embryo of a future tomato. Fall came and the plant died, without giving me a single fruit. It was a long disappointing summer.

Today, at the ranch, I am able to grow a number of different kinds of tomatoes and I await their season like an impatient lover. Ooo, the cherry toms have fruit! Ohhh, they're sweet -- like candy! Ohhh, here come the Romas. Mmmm, the Brandywines are almost ready... Ohhh, why don't we live in the Central Valley where it gets hotter faster?

Our tomatoes don't really get going til near the end of September, so by the time the major tomatoes arrive, I am almost sick with anticipation. But now, here they come and I am in heaven. Or should I say Eden? This Eve needs no temptress Snake. The Forbidden Fruit is seductive enough.
Canned Love!

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