Sweet, salty, and bitter

I finally understand why a tomato is a fruit.  Not the scientific reason, I have known that for a long time: in general, all fruits develop from the ovary in the base of the flower containing the seeds of the plant.  The tomato is born from the ovary of the plant after it is fertilized.  The flesh is made of pericarp walls and the cavities contain the seeds. Toms are an herbaceous plant in the nightshade family (irony there that given the chance over several seasons to go wild, some revert back) and the fruit is classified as a berry.

I ate a lot of garden tomatoes as a kid, and have long known the difference between the artificially ripened tomato-like things at the grocery, and the red, deeply flavored misshapen berries out of a garden.  But I always associated tomatoes with salt.  I have seen tomato jelly for sale and wondered why anyone would treat it as a sweet thing.  Until this weekend.

I bought a pint box of tiny orange tomatoes from a farmers market stand.  As I waited for Husband and kids, I sat and ate a few.  It was unlike anything I have ever had.  They smelled like tomatoes, the texture was of a good garden tomato, but the flavor was sweet.  Down right sugar sweet they were.  I continued to eat the whole pint, each tiny fruit bursting with flavor the second I bit down upon it.  I bought a second pint for Husband to try, as I rambled effusively about the flavor.  One bite and he agreed.

I was happy to have finally tasted a tomato that was the very definition of fruit, not just terrific tomato.  They were not the flavor of the “grape” tom, these tiny orange spheres are something else.  When I go back next weekend I will ask what variety they are.

Summer is in full swing with record heat waves, drought, pepper plant eating deer (I am now itching to shoot not only the dogs who randomly crap in our yard-damned the owners- but also the night stalking deer), itchy mosquito bites, bats swarming through the air at sun down, crunchy brown grass, and pots of basil that seem to multiply over night.  The split system heat pump and air conditioner we installed last year has been a blessing on days when the mercury has soared above 105, and the basement is always a good refuge from the heat.  The van shimmers and blasts out waves of throat-choking air when I open the door, and keeping the family hydrated is a constant concern.

The undecipherable tonking of speakers from a local baseball game sounds as the sun goes down, kids run dripping up the street heading home from the city pool.  Watermelon juice dries stickily on hands, chests, cheeks, and floors.  Cornhusks get composted, and the slow gray smoke from the black pot bellied grill wafts over the fence.  Cicadas sound early in the morning and late in the evening, and black birds converse as they take refuge from the heat in our black walnut tree. 

We buried Husbands 15 year old cat last week, at the end of the dry flower garden.  The boys and I found a small concrete sleeping cat, which we put on top of a 2’x1.5’ rock over the grave.  It was a major passing for Husband, a singular marker of middle age.  He had rescued the cat from a shelter as a kitten, and it was his companion throughout graduate school.  Last fall it had begun “losing its mind” according to Husband, and even after being confined to the basement continued to cause problems.  I give him credit, for knowing what had to be done and doing it.  He sat with the cat while the vet gently slid a drug into the small furry body.  He made peace with his friend, and let him go.  When he brought the box home with the body, he dug the hole and I helped him cover it over.  It was not an easy day for any of us.

Summer can be a time of bounty and sweetness, and a time of loss.  I swore like a sailor when I stepped out one morning last week and saw the leaves from my sunflower and pepper plants stripped bare.  I gave up trying to keep any of the lawn green after three weeks without rain.  And I cried for my best friend and the inevitable act he had to carry out that lessened our family by one pet.  I watch as my 95 year old grandmother winds down her life and her body, my father making sure she is comfortable and eating- I must remember to take her some of the tiny orange tomatoes.  I think one of the great graces of middle age is knowing that life ebbs and flows in a complex forward motion of the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, and lots of just plain doing in between being born and dying.  It is this knowledge that keeps the darkness at bay for me, the knowledge that I can still be surprised by life and that I will at some time again be tortured by sadness, but the sadness will not last.

I have never liked heat; geographic regions where the sun shines down and the air seems not to move and the temperature hovers in the 90’s.   I like rainy and cool places best.  But where we live is not always a best-case scenario, and things that happen are sometimes simply part of life.  There is always my family, the cool of the house, and the promise of sweet, bright orange garden fruit in the middle of summer.  Most days, that will do just fine.

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