For some, summertime means a more lenient dress code at work, flexible hours, and visits to the local ice cream store. For some, summer starts when they eat watermelon at a family picnic, spitting the seeds out on the lawn as far as they can. For others, it’s the Fourth of July fireworks, a grilled hamburger or hotdog, and fresh sweet corn, and then reading a book outside on their deck or in a lawn chair. But they’re wrong.
The official start of summer is eating the first homegrown garden tomato. (It might be July or August!) Every year, I watch the tomato plants in the yard — the yellow blossoms fall off and turn into firm little green balls. Then one day, they start getting larger. The overburdened tomato plant with its pungent tomatoleaf smell usually has to be propped up so the fruit can see the sun. I feel like a child waiting to open a birthday present as I wonder, impatiently, why the tomatoes are not red yet.
Each morning I check the redness of the fruit. Not yet. Not yet. One day, I see that the tomato is red all over. I pick the fruit, feeling the warmth of the sun on it, smelling the hot leaves, and feeling a little garden soil on the fruit. I cannot wait to eat the tomato and simply rub the soil off on my clothes. I do not worry about fertilizer or pesticides. I am living on the edge. I am drugged with the imminent first bite of the fruit. I bite in and know that summer is here. It is more than the deep, wonderful taste of a tomato. It is the whole garden journey, from the spring planting, to the rains and wind, to, most of all, the waiting for ripeness.
I pick a few more summer tomatoes and slice them to top my toast with butter and parmesan cheese; or with onions, basil, and olive oil and crusty bread. It is the short-lived season of a garden tomato that makes summer and the following harvest a sacred yet profound gift from creation.