From the time before I was born, Daddy has almost always cultivated a little garden in the summer. I remember that he, my sister Sabrina and I would pile in Daddy's immaculately clean pickup truck every spring and drive to the local gardening store or the dreaded Wal-Mart, where he would choose a few vegetable plants to grow that year. Sometimes we had okra, sometimes green bell peppers, often we would get yellow squash. However, no matter what else Daddy chose he always made sure to buy several tomato plants, Big Boy being his favorite variety. When we got back to the house we didn't waste any time clearing out our garden space, tilling the soil, planting the starts and erecting wire cages for the tomatoes. In the days afterward we took turns watering the garden. Planting the garden was a family group activity, one that everyone enjoyed.
When I was a child I hated to eat, and Daddy practically had to force feed me at every meal. Even though I didn't enjoy eating back then, I experienced a definite satisfaction from seeing the vegetables grow and receiving tangible and visible proof that our family's hard work in the hot sun had paid off. Once the tomatoes were ripe, my sister and I would argue about who would get to pluck them from the vines.
Tomatoes were one food that Daddy never had to make me eat. I always loved tomatoes, and would sometimes make an entire meal of them. The ones from our garden tasted so superior to the ones at the grocery store, so juicy and flavorful. The red skin seemed darker, the fruit heavier. After we picked them, Sabrina and I would carefully rinse them under the warm water in the sink before Daddy sliced them and arranged them on a dinner plate. We salted them heavily and ate them every night for dinner, taking pleasure in the refreshing fruit during the humid Southern nights in July and August. Tomatoes, to me, are inextricably related to summer.
Do you have a food that you specifically relate to summer? Please share your memories of your own special summer food.