My doctor has told me to eat more fruits and vegetables, a prescription that’s more pleasure than penance here in summer, the banner season for homegrown produce.
I lunched on tomatoes and cottage cheese the other day, which doesn’t sound very decadent, except that the tomatoes were locally grown, which made a meal fit for a king.
My wife has a friend who eats tomatoes like apples, which recognizes tomatoes for what they really are - a fruit that’s mistakenly been cast as a vegetable.
There’s a theory that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was a tomato, although I can’t imagine the tree of knowledge of good and evil as a tomato vine. But the thought of tomatoes as tempting food does seem plausible at this time of year, when the bright red fruit ranks among the deepest joys of the summer table.
Tomatoes from friends arrive at my desk over the summer, as bright as Easter eggs and just as welcome. Meanwhile, I wait with crossed fingers for the tomatoes from my own garden to ripen. They’re green and growing by the day, but they have yet to begin blushing to the lovely crimson that speaks of summer sun distilled to its essence.
I keep the most casual of garden plots - a single, raised row about the size of a camping cot. Dressed with manure and mulched with autumn leaves, my garden bed also hosts a couple of refugees: a yam that my son had rooted in a Mason jar, and a melon vine that apparently sprouted from a seed held within the compost I worked into the soil.
We have no clear idea what kind of melon might sprout from the vine, which snakes along the edge of the garden bed like lace around a tablecloth, and it makes no horticultural sense to place the melon in such close competition with the tomatoes.
But we indulge this sort of whimsy more from curiosity than anything else, and I’m amused each morning to glance out the dining room window and see the tomatoes, melon vine and yam huddled against the brightening sky, like strangers in a lifeboat.
The life of the garden has been very much a survival sport this summer, as a long drought bakes the ground to the crispness of stale bread. We irrigate the garden with a doughnut sprinkler that quickly draws birds to bathe in the long arcs of water, the blue jays darting vainly under this makeshift shower.
Whether the birds will get to my ripening tomatoes before I do is the cliffhanger that keeps us talking around the evening dinner table.
Seeing the garden each evening as the June twilight fades to darkness, I’m reminded of what I first learned in childhood - namely, that the best gift of summer is simple anticipation, the happiness of wondering what will happen next.