For the past month; amongst the holiday greetings and bills, our mailbox has been harboring garden porn. Those seed catalogues filled with glossy pages of beautiful pictures; candy red tomatoes, golden ears of sweet corn, or dewy slices of watermelons.
On dreary days, you turn the pages and think — “oh yeah, I want some of that”, as you gaze at pictures of Wando peas or Detroit Red beets. Then daydream about having a BLT with Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, so flavorful and juicy that you can almost feel the juice running down your chin.
It was under one of these catalogues that I found the “thing”. It has been in the same place for almost four weeks now, sort of squarish in shape with a pearlescent red hue. What was brought home with expectations of personal fulfillment is now being viewed with a degree of morbid fascination. A store-bought tomato has been sitting on the counter for nearly a month, and it has not decayed. At all. It’s sort of creepy.
Growing up, most of the fresh produce you see at the store was not available year-round. There were specific and short-lived seasons for strawberries, peaches, watermelons, oranges and most importantly, tomatoes. Cross breeding and genetic modifications as well as better harvesting and transportation methods has extended our dietary selections. But there are prices for those changes.
Tomatoes in particular; no longer have the savory flavors of long ago. Their flesh bruised easily, the skin broke down quickly and their shape required additional packing for a safe delivery. In essence; they were too difficult to transport and spoiled quickly. Today’s fruits have a denser quality to them, a slightly tougher skin and — a squarish shape, which allows for better packing. While they lack the flavor of heirloom produce, they do last longer. To a suspicious degree.
I have been keeping an eye on this tomato, it is still fairly firm and unblemished after being off the vine for who knows how long. I wouldn’t eat it now, if I was paid to do so. It’s probably silly, but I am sort of afraid of it. I want one like a Brandywine or Amish Paste, filled with lush flavors and a short shelf life. That thing on the counter strikes me as being in some sort of science fiction-y suspended animation.
Even as I dog ear the pages of the catalogues, and start to think about composted manure and seedlings, I am keeping an eye on that table least the tomato suddenly starts sending out slimy shoots like some sort of garden variety alien.
The first day of spring is March 20th, and it seems like a long way off. Farm stand produce seems even further away. Until then, produce production strategies will continue even as that freaky fruit rests on the counter. In the meantime, tomato consumption will drastically decrease in our household; at least until the craving for a taco night at our house overcomes my suspicious nature or I forget. Whichever comes first.
Written and submitted by Sarah Roush for The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.