Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tomato Revelations

Hence it was not unnatural that Mr. Mannering while in his bath should be full of the most exalted visions of the blossoming of his heart's darling, his vegetable godchild.

"Green Thoughts" by John Collier

If anyone had told me five years ago that I would become an avid gardener, I would have laughed. A lot. I used to mention my inability to grow plants in the same off-hand manner that some people mention that they don't cook, as a bald statement of fact followed by the unspoken question "and why would I want to?" Unlike the non-cooks though, I've always been interested in cooking (and eating!) and dedicated to good ingredients. I suppose it was inevitable that my passion for food would eventually lead me to the garden.

My moment came about seven years ago when Lola and I made our first visit to the Morningside Farmers Market. One of the farmers was selling the weirdest looking tomatoes I'd ever seen. They were dark brownish-purple and lumpy as hell, but they had an off-beat charisma and I knew I had to have some. The farmer told me that they were Black Krims, an heirloom, and that the flavor would knock me out. I didn't know anything about heirloom tomatoes at the time, but his enthusiasm convinced me to buy a bag. Later, after tasting one, my only regret was that I hadn't bought more. Like all he had. The essence of "tomatoness" burst through my mouth with each bite. It was ravishing and I was suddenly aware of a tiny thought, an alien thought.

"Maybe I could grow something like this."

I kept buying at the farmers markets, but put off gardening. We were living in a rented house with an uninviting back yard that got maybe two minutes of full sun a day. Three years ago, we bought a house in Decatur and one afternoon I looked out at the large, gloriously sunlit back deck. I smiled. Desire, long nurtured, had finally found its home.

I think I'm finally starting to get some things right. I started out the first year with two tomato plants in five gallon paint buckets and a single pepper plant. Nothing did very well, but I was as proud and pleased as any new parent with my scanty yield. The next year, I added more plants and used bigger pots, especially for the tomatoes. This year I had a spring garden (peas and lettuce mostly) which did well, but the summer garden is really taking off. Take a look.

Here's another angle.

And an arial view.

Now, I can't imagine ever living in a place where I couldn't grow something. That Black Krim tomato opened a door for me into a vital part of my spirit.

Today's twist -

The name of this blog is borrowed from a short story by John Collier, as is the quote at the top of the post. John Collier was a British author active in the 1930's through the 1950's. He began his literary career as a poet, but he's best known for his fantasy-tinged short stories, many of which appeared in The New Yorker. In later years, he worked as a screen writer in Hollywood sharing writing credits, most notably, for The African Queen and Sylvia Scarlett.

He was nothing if not modest about his talents. "I sometimes marvel," he said. "That a third-rate writer like me has been able to palm himself off as a second-rate writer." I think he sold himself short. Or perhaps he was deploying the same sly wit that makes his short stories so delicious. I'm a huge fan of his collection Fancies and Good Night and I devour it anew at least once a year. By the way, the story "Green Thoughts" concerns an orchid enthusiast whose passion becomes his undoing. So far, my gardening passion has brought me some frustration, but mainly pleasure as, I trust, has yours.


Alice said...

This post gives me hope that someday (when I have a place where I can grow things) I too can learn to grow food without killing it!--and now I'm really craving tomatoes!

Christina said...

Welcome to this green, wonderful world. I think you'll be very happy here.

As for Black Krims, they're my absolute favorite.

Dea Anne said...

Alice - I think the key for me was starting with edibles because cooking is so important to me. Now I find myself getting interested in flowers too. Learning to grow plants is really enjoyable and I hope you can start someday soon. Even a windowsill or a small balcony sometimes has room for a couple of pots for herbs. Thanks for the comment!
Christina - thanks so much for the kind words. Your blog has been a huge inspiration for me. It's opened mental doors for me with gardening, cooking, and now blogging. Thanks again!