Pick of the Month, August ‘07

August 5, 2007

I tend to obsess over seasonal ingredients. I’m not really sure why it makes me so happy to enjoy a fruit or vegetable in its seasonal prime, at its precise and often short-lived moment of sensual perfection. Actually, upon second glance, I think that sentence just answered its own posed question. It’s similar to the reasons kids like Christmas — it only happens once a year, we expect it to happen when it’s cold out (ok, I’m limiting my audience to the Northern hemisphere, which I’m certain is a safe bet, and I’m ignoring the fact that Al Gore might be onto something since many Southern Christmases in recent memory have been on the balmy side), and part of its enticement is its limited availability. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are the essence of themselves only a few weeks out of every year, and they usually satisfy a specific and unique craving upon consumption. I could go on about how even the nutrients they contain are beneficial to our bodies at that time of year, but that goes beyond flavor and ventures dangerously close to my ever-handy soapbox, so I’ll stick to the tastebuds for now.

In light of the above, I’ve decided to spotlight a seasonal fruit or vegetable every month. It seems fitting that this new regular feature of my blog begins with one of the most persnickety seasonal fruits of all: the tomato.

As with most fresh fruits and vegetables, I grew up disliking tomatoes. I occasionally at them on sandwiches, hamburgers, etc., but the thought of slicing, salting, and consuming one by itself never entered my mind, since that was something that only people over the age of 40 would ever seriously consider. And, as with most fruits and vegetables, I can partially blame this distaste on the fact that I was primarily exposed to the tomato when it was out-of-season, purchased at my local Kroger, after being driven from Mexico and expected to ripen on the truck somewhere between Texas and Louisiana. It was bland, mealy, and bore no real resemblance to what a tomato should actually be.

Let’s skip the twenty years that have passed since that time, and fast-forward to Athens, Georgia, where we have grown tomatoes in our garden, with mixed success, for the past few years. This summer is the exception; we sold our house, and weren’t sure when we’d be moving, and didn’t want to tend a garden only to miss out on all the fruit of our labor. I’ve been relying on generous friends (thanks, Melissa) to provide me with home-grown tomatoes, and they’ve been coming in nicely. We’ve had tomato sandwiches, pasta with fresh tomato sauce, tomato and avocado salad, and bruschetta. I have yet to make the ONE thing that always, without fail, MUST be made when tomatoes are at their peak: Tomato Pie. All of these concoctions are not even worth making when they can’t be made with fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes. But most especially the Tomato Pie. Because it is only made 2 or 3 times within 6 or so weeks out of the year, and because it perfectly showcases the tomato in all of its juicy, sweet, bright-red glory, it is a meal that can bring tears to your eyes.

I’ll post about the Tomato Pie when it finally gets made (hopefully later this week), but between now and then, if you haven’t yet embraced the summer tomato, go find a friend with a garden, snag a couple of pounds, and make bruschetta (chop up some tomatoes, add some fresh basil and salt, and put it on garlic-rubbed toast). Or just slice it, salt it, and consume it in all its unadulterated tomato-ness.

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