This month I got buried under an avalanche of tomatoes. Even with the help of the squirrels(?), birds(?), and other unknown nibblers I could barely keep up. I had quart after quart of cherry tomatoes in spite of a mysterious practical joker who drilled a hole through the skin and ate out the insides, leaving me picking seemingly whole tomatoes that collapsed between my fingers. Finally caught up with him escaping from one as I picked another nearby. A caterpillar who ate so many tomatoes he was the same ripe orangey red. Went in to get my camera and he disappeared. Now I’ll have to look at bug mug shots to identify him.
So as I made sauce and salsa and paste and ate tomato sandwiches I thought a lot about tomatoes. I know they came from the New World and even in Italy didn’t show up in recipes until the 18th century. I love Italian food and had the good fortune to live in an Italian neighborhood in Monterey, California at one point in my life. On the side of a hill the yards were terraced with retaining walls and filled with garden beds by my neighbors, mostly first and second generation immigrants. As I walked down the sidewalk one hot, sunny afternoon the smell of ripe tomatoes drifted down from the garden above my head. It smelled so good I said so out loud. That’s how I met one neighbor. He heard me and insisted I wait while he got a bag to give me some. They were the best tomatoes I ever had. When I brought them home they filled the kitchen with tomato small, every time. My landlord’s father was still doing commercial fishing and would bring me fish. Fish pan fried in olive oil, a bowl of pasta with fresh tomato sauce and and inexpensive Italian wine made a lot of wonderful summer dinners. Maybe it was the same kind of climate that made tomatoes so prolific and delicious in Monterey that made them grow well and take up such an important place in Italian cuisine. This is making me hungry. I think it’s time for a nice tomato salad.