Doctors and old-time folks may say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but for my money, it’s tomatoes.
Shopping at the Bardstown Road farmer’s market in Louisville this weekend, I was talking with a farmer as I purchased what I’m pretty sure was my bodyweight in tomatoes. “You need to enjoy them while they’re in season,” he said. You don’t have to tell me twice! As long as there’s an abundance of tomatoes in a rainbow of hues heaped at the markets, you can bet I’m eating them every day. The last tomato of the season is still a comfortable distance away, so there’s no urgency just yet, but since sinking into that first BLT of the year (always a cause for celebration), I’ve reveled in tomatoes. Their crimson (or gold or violet) flesh is the taste of summer, distilled.
Oddly enough, it took a trip far beyond my rural Kentucky home to discover how much I loved these fruits. Despite growing up seeing my family — including my dad, who refused almost all vegetable matter — slice them warm from the garden, sprinkle with salt and, skipping a plate, spear them and devour them, I never appreciated tomatoes. I’m embarrassed to say I may have, kidlike, decided I didn’t like them without even trying them. That attitude carried through into my mid 20s, when I traveled to Europe for the first time. A caprese salad in Italy brought about the epiphany. A platter of summer-fresh, local tomatoes, torn basil, fresh mozzarella, and fragrant olive oil was a revelation. (In more ways than one – it introduced me to an entirely new way of eating that did not involve boxes, packages, or anything ending in ARoni.)
That was one of the first dishes I recreated upon coming home (and have done again over and over since). I have only one rule. Tomatoes can only be consumed in season. And because that season is fleeting, I make the most of it by finding a way to have them every day.
Besides in a caprese salad, I might toss together a salad of fresh corn, diced tomato, avocado, shrimp or steak, and a cilantro lime dressing. A BLT is always a hit. Tomatoes can go in a strata, atop a pizza, or popped directly into mouth, as the Sungolds and Chocolate Cherries are this week. Last night they co-starred in a salad with watermelon, basil, goat cheese and balsamic dressing. Tomorrow, who knows? The only thing for sure, is that as long as the summer sun keeps nourishing tomatoes, they will continue to feed me.