‘Tis the Season
“On the tractor right now,” wrote Farmer Ron to begin the email, “Yes 5th generation.” Though I had just interviewed Ron in Union Square as its Wednesday market set up, I had to send him follow up questions because the article couldn’t wait. No—the writing could wait; it was the tomatoes that couldn’t.
Ron, who sells apple mint and cantaloupes and cherry peppers at the market, who works on a farm in New Jersey that has been in his family for five generations, who has an obsession with tomatoes, gave me four of his best. As I typed the email, they stared at me from across my desk: one green, one pink, another crimson, the last orange-red stripe, all fat, skin tight with juice, and white in spots under the office lights. I sent the email. I stared out the window at Central Park.
At 7 a.m. that morning, I crossed the north side of Union Square Park to meet Ron. My two iced coffees hadn’t cooled me at all against the sun. Though early, it was hot, and vendors wiped their foreheads after pulling corn from crates, and the sun shone in their eyes even in the shade. They wore gloves and boots. Sleek vans with the names of restaurants on their sides were pulled up to the curb; the drivers of these vans were getting the good early produce at a good price.
I met Farmer Ron by his stand. He had on shorts and a blue t-shirt sporting the name of his farm, a bright blue, which might be the one color his tomatoes aren’t. There they were in crates, cracked and lumpy and beautiful.
As long as I can remember, I have been a lover of tomatoes. Sauce on pasta. Slices on a sandwich. Whole like a plum. On one occasion, I ordered a grilled cheese with seven slices of tomato at a diner. In recent years I have learned the joys of heirloom tomatoes. Loosely defined, an heirloom tomato is a type of tomato that has been grown since before World War II. Tightly defined, an heirloom tomato is the slew of pink and purple fruits that were on the tables in front of me.
The interview ended, and Ron picked out my heirloom tomatoes. I went to my desk; he went to his field. The day passed, sifted away in a second but for a moment in the evening that has fossilized. After work, after getting up before daybreak, after crossing the state line on my trip home and walking my dog when I got there, I washed off and sliced the tomatoes. They went into the bowl nearly naked; I dressed them up in only olive oil and salt.
When a tomato is good, it is good. You can buy the cheap bananas, and you can argue for the $5 wine, but once you have tasted a tomato that splinters your being and makes you know that, yes, summer is peaking, you will never again see an ordinary tomato as you did. The tomato season is here, and, as with anything temporary, seize, seize, seize it before it sifts away.