Our Story of Tomatoes

Our garden always includes tomatoes.  Most years the garden will include more produce, but there are always tomatoes.  To explain why requires just a bit of my husband’s family history. The narrative is below.

We didn’t have a vegetable garden until we moved back to Arlington after 20 or so years living in various apartments and cities and foreign lands….basil, sure, cilantro, sometimes, but for reasons that require more explaining that we have room for in our blog, we didn’t find/make time for gardening in any serious way until we moved back home.  Perhaps one reason is that growing food has early roots in my husband’s family, and moving back to where he grew up made the vegetable garden something that had to happen. His mother grew up on the top story of a deli, and since he was a little boy, she gardened. She gardened with a dear family friend in a garden apartment complex, and they appropriated ground that really belonged to the apartment owners as a vegetable garden. From the very beginning, it was a vegetable garden. Why? As a kid, he had no idea.  But thinking back to the late 60s/early 70s when this was happening, it’s quite likely that the family budget needed to be stretched.  Many things were planted, including tomatoes, but they weren’t the central theme, but the first tomato always merited a photograph!  But she grew all kinds of vegetables – including carrots, kohlrabi, things quite impractical from a kid’s point of view.  When the family bought their first small house in Arlington, his mother gardened in that small house – and the new garden included both flowers and veggies. As a kid, he took no particular note of this. It was to be expected. When his mother died at a very early age, this garden was a fundamental part of the household, and needed to be maintained. His dad took it over once she was no longer able to garden, and has taken over the role with great enthusiasm. The garden has grown, and will need to be discussed in another entry.  But today, we are thinking about tomatoes.  Tomatoes, notwithstanding the first tomato picture, were only a small part of the garden in the “old days.”

As a kid, my husband hated tomatoes, because the ones featured on the “daily menu” were the pink peaky tomatoes that came from Safeway. An early memory is asserting, “I will never ever like tomatoes.”  Even though he held the first tomato high for his mother, he managed to get into young adulthood not liking tomatoes.  But there was a moment when the early dislike was transformed. While in Greece, in a summer during college, the first true Greek salad marked the beginning of new relationship with tomatoes.  After a day hiking with little money to his name, he ordered a Greek salad and a beer, and the rest of the story is legend. Meanwhile, his dad moved to a house with more property, and now has a garden where tomatoes are a central focus.  He grows at least twenty different varieties of tomatoes plants each year, and has a fancy irrigation system of his own creation to ensure that they grow as they should.  It is in this context, and with this historical framing, that tomato gardening has become a focus of our vegetable garden.  A little patch of land next to our kitchen has enough room for 8 tomato plants, and every spring, a trip to DeBaggio’s Herb Farm & Nursery is mandatory.

The tomatoes available at DeBaggio’s are the foundations of legends, and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from.  Plants both heritage and not, hybrids or not, of all shapes and sizes, and plants of many colors (maroon, red, pink, yellow, green, green striped, brown) greet the customer. You could get a gigantic beefeater tomato plant for your burger, or you could purchase a red brandywine, or you could simply read the fantastical names, and histories, and geneaologies of the plants, and pick the ones that strike your fancy.

Over the eight years that we’ve been regular customers at DeBaggio’s, we’ve become increasingly in favor of cherry tomatoes as opposed to the larger varieties.  We get better yield from those plants, less loss to squirrels and other varmints, ALL family members love them, and they are the best for salads…

So this year, we are growing  two large varieties: the Mortgage Lifter, a plant developed during the Great Depression with good yield, that seemed particularly apropos this year, and the German Giant, similar to the Brandywine, but more prolific.  And then, we eagerly anticipate the fruit of our six cherry tomato plants: two Black Plums, one Sweet Baby Girl, one Sun Gold, one Tommy Toe, and one Red Sun Gold.  Our plants went into the garden about two weeks ago, and are thrilled with the cool wet week we’re having.  We’re looking forward to the first harvest in early June!!!


2 Comments to “Our Story of Tomatoes”

  1. Ok. Now I am all weepy and nostaglic. I love the pictures. What a great post! Not to mention the fact that most of the time those cherry Sun Gold tomatos never even make it in the house because kids,etc just eat them straight! Love em!

  2. Hey Liz, What an awesome photo from Buckingham. I will have to post some other mom and Carol garden photos on your Facebook wall for you to share with Rob.

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