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Who’s the Tomato Queen?

June declared that her mother is the Queen of Tomatoes. I really don’t like to argue with friends, but June didn’t know my mother when she and Dad grew a huge vegetable garden.
Mom served tomatoes every meal. Sliced, with eggs and bacon for breakfast, on a BLT sandwich for lunch, and chopped in coleslaw or quartered for supper.
Mom canned tomato juice, whole tomatoes, and tomato soup with vegetables. No tomato – not even a green one – went to waste. At the end of the growing season, green tomatoes were sliced, coated with cornmeal and fried. Fried green tomatoes. Delicious. And if there were too many green tomatoes to fry before the first killing frost in the fall, Mom picked them from the vines. Then she wrapped them, individually, in a torn piece of old newspaper and laid them in a single layer on a cardboard tray. The green tomatoes were stored, with hopes that they would ripen, in the darkest corner of the basement. The unused coal bin. And when those tomatoes turned light pink or red, she cooked them in spaghetti sauce or with Salisbury steak.
June said that her mother, Nell, buys home grown tomatoes from neighbors. “Searching for, talking about, and preserving tomatoes all loom large in my mom’s life each summer. She would never consider serving a meal of fresh summer vegetables and hot cornbread without luscious, fresh tomatoes.” Nell handles each tomato with special care. Wrapped in tissue paper. “Each Christmas she collects used tissue paper –all colors – and cuts perfect squares. She gently wraps all tomatoes, one by one, and places them on small trays and stores them on the floor under her bed.” There an air vent provides the perfect storage temperature. Nell’s tomatoes go straight from under her bed to the dinner table. (And all these years I thought my kitchen counter was the perfect storage place for ripe tomatoes.)
At the end of the season, Nell buys whatever tomatoes she can find. Red and green and all shades in between. She even travels fifty miles from her home in South Pittsburg to Pikeville to buy the best green tomatoes around. She wants to serve homegrown tomatoes as long as possible. It’s a sad moment when she announces, “These are the last of the home grown tomatoes.”
Nell’s goal is to serve tomatoes for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. If she can keep them until November, that accomplishment comes with bragging rights. June said, “Although we are thankful for the turkey and fixings, we always talk about and wonder how long those tomatoes stayed under Mom’s bed. My mom truly is the Queen of Tomatoes.”
Does Nell’s wrapping each homegrown tomato in squares of Christmas tissue paper and sleeping with tomatoes under her bed trump my mother’s growing and canning and storing tomatoes? Maybe. How about this? June’s mother is the reigning Tomato Queen and my mother was the former queen.


2 Responses

  1. I loved this story–it was fun. Plus, I learned something, too!


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