I have wasted a good deal of time in my adult life looking for the mythical tomato of my youth. Now at the stores, you can buy things that resemble tomatoes. But the tomato of my youth was so juicy the skin was about to burst, and when you cut it the smell filled the room. Once I grew some beefsteak tomatoes that almost reached the mark. We had a hot summer, but the next year when I tried again, the crop was covered in the most god awful worms I have ever seen.
Such is the farmer’s life.
Once we visited Uncle Baxter in Georgia. I don’t know whose Uncle he was exactly, but we were related somehow. He lived out in the middle of nowhere. We drove along a paved road for a long time and then we drove off on a dirt road for a long time. The land was all Uncle Baxter’s and he rented it out to blacks. Finally we got to Uncle Baxter’s house. It didn’t have a lick of paint on it and was lifted up off the ground. Underneath the house was a pack of dogs.
They came yipping and snarling out into the yard, and boy, you knew, you had better stop. So we did and they stopped too but still yipping and snarling till Uncle Baxter came out and called them off. I guess living off like that Uncle Baxter was scared of strangers or something what with the dogs and right inside over the front door was not one but two loaded firearms. Maybe he was worried about being the only white person around and the landlord for many black people—landlords being universally hated.
Uncle Baxter showed us around the place while Mrs. Baxter made us up a light lunch. We sat down to ham that had come straight out of their smokehouse and biscuits that Mrs. Baxter had whipped up on the spot and sliced tomatoes right from their garden. And a little pan gravy from frying the ham if you wanted it. That was one of the best lunches I ever had. And the tomatoes! Well, they were real tomatoes straight from their garden where they had been a few minutes before we ate them.
Sometimes you have just got to be there; there’s no other way. Ham straight from your own smokehouse is completely different from the hams you buy at the store. The same for a tomato. If you grow corn, you learn that the sugars in the corn begin to change within minutes of having been picked. So first you get the water boiling and then you pick the corn and shuck it and turn off the heat and just sort of dip the corn in the hot water and it will taste like nothing you had ever had before.
The same with ham from your own smokehouse or tomatoes straight from your own garden. Most of us don’t know, these days, what anything “really” tastes like or even if there’s a “real” way for anything to taste.