Sunday, November 17, 2013

Guy Clark -- "Homegrown Tomatoes" (1983)

Plant them in the spring 
Eat them in the summer
All winter without them
Is a culinary bummer

(True dat!)

Did you know that some people believe that the Garden of Eden's "forbidden fruit" wasn't an apple but a tomato?

Tomatoes were being cultivated in Latin America at least 2500 years ago.  But Europeans were unfamiliar with them until Spanish explorers brought them back from the New World in the early 1500s.  

At first, Europeans grew tomatoes primarily for decorative purposes -- like gourds and pumpkins.  Colonial Americans were slow to warm to tomatoes, in part because they believed they were toxic.  (Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, which includes a number of highly toxic plants.)

Tomatoes traveled from Spain to Italy via Morocco, so the Italians called the fruit pomi de Mori -- meaning "apples of the Moors."  The French named them pommes d'amour, or "love apples."

It's not clear whether that French name represents a variation on pomi de Mori, or because the French thought tomatoes had aphrodisiac qualities.  (Isn't that just like the French?  They can't even cut up a tomato for their salad without getting all hot and bothered.)

Early-day Arkansawyers also referred to tomatoes as "love apples" -- at least that's how the characters in Donald Harington's novel, The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks (which I highly recommend), refer to tomatoes:

In Fanshaw's garden there had grown a plant which Jacob Ingledew had not seen before.  Luxuriant green bushes produced a rounded green fruit which, when ripened, turned red, but had a taste that was not sweet like other fruit but tangy, almost acrid, and produced a feeling of voluptuousness.  Upon inquiry from Jacob, Fanshaw said this plant was called Tah May Toh, which could be translated as "love apple."  . . . But [Fanshaw] failed in his attempts to get Jacob to sample one.  Jacob . . . was suspicious that the Tah May Toh was poisonous and he never ate them.

There you have it.  If the French and rural Arkansawyers agree on something, you know it must be . . . wrong!

The tomatoes I've been stuffing myself full of the last few months aren't technically "homegrown."  I haven't grown my own tomatoes for many years.  But I do the next best thing: I buy tomatoes from local farmers every week at the Thursday-afternoon farmers' market that's located near my office in downtown Washington, DC.

I prefer cherry tomatoes over the big ones.  But the farmer I get them from tells me that there won't be any more cherry tomatoes once there's a frost -- and that could be any day now.

Knowing that my supply of cherry tomatoes is going to disappear very shortly, I've been bingeing on the juicy little devils like the mayor of Toronto binges on booze and crack.

During the summer, I just get one pint each week.  Last week, I decided to get three pints.  (I do have hoarder tendencies.)  

That means I'm eating something like 50 tomatoes per day (assuming I eat them all within a week -- they're ripe when I get them, and it's risky to try to keep them around longer than that).  

This colander was pretty full last Thursday -- I was about halfway through my weekly stash when I took this photo:

I usually eat a bunch with the sandwich I bring to my office every day.  I often have a dozen or so as an early evening snack before leaving work.  Then it's another dozen or so (lightly drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette) with my regular weeknight repast (which my regular readers know is baked salmon and French-style green beans).

For my weekend lunches, the tomatoes are the perfect accompaniment for cottage cheese.  

I can't say I'm a big fan of Guy Clark's music.  I don't really know his oeuvre -- just a few of his better-known songs.  He seems to be one of those Texas singer-songwriters who specialize in wry and wistful songs that are much beloved by the Lone Star State's plentiful supply of ex-hippies.  (Think Jerry Jeff Walker, Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt, etc.)

I think most of the music produced by the philosophers-in-cowboy-hats school of singer-songwriters is much too cute and precious and self-consciously meaningful.  I find it to be a little insincere.  

But if you're fifty- or sixty-something and you owned these records (on vinyl, of course) when you were in college -- where you smoked more than a little weed from time to time -- and a song like "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" or (God help us) "Mr. Bojangles" comes on the jukebox at your favorite pseudo-redneck bar in Austin or Nashville or Little Rock after you've had one too many Shiner Bocks, you'll probably find yourself wiping a tear from your eye and singing loudly to the chorus.  

"Homegrown Tomatoes" is just a simple little throw-away song.  There's not much to it lyrically and the music is nothing great.  But when you need a song about tomatoes, the choices are pretty limited. 

Here's "Homegrown Tomatoes":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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