When I was 5, my uncle planted a couple of tomato plants for my grandparents in their very small garden in the Allentown/Hilltop neighborhood. These plants grew over 6 feet tall, but never produced any fruit. Every week when we visited, I would rush out to the yard only to be disappointed. Finally one week, there they were -- nice, ripe, small tomatoes. I was so excited to be able to pick one and eat it.
Years later I realized that tomatoes would not just appear and ripen in the space of seven days, so I started asking questions. I finally found out that someone felt so bad that I was constantly let down that they had purchased small tomatoes and attached them to the plant! No one ever admitted to the trick they played on me, but it made a small girl very happy to finally have some tomatoes at grandma's.
KATHY (PHILLIPS) MORUS
Tomatoes, heaven sent
Our love for tomatoes was one of the things my father and I had in common. We would plant them, nourish them, eat them. "Get any tomatoes today?" was the daily question from my dad, each year, as we entered the latter days of July and then the full month of August. "We need hot nights for the tomatoes to turn red," he would say. A joke we shared was always about the tomatoes he planted at the side of his house in clay and stony soil. They grew without much water or care, but they produced wonderfully delicious tomatoes, like magic.
Late last spring, when weeding, I noticed what looked like a tomato plant growing in my yard. I let it grow and watched it produce an abundance of huge, cherry tomatoes. I hadn't planted it. I only watered it and picked and ate the tomatoes from it. Then last fall, I cut down the stalk and discarded the stem. Because of the oddity, I told family and friends that the tomato bounty was a gift from my father, Frank, who died in October of 2010.
This year, in the same exact spot as last year, another cherry tomato plant grows. Again, I did not plant it, but this year, I looked for it -- actually, I expected it. Currently, I am watering it and using stakes to keep it upright. I am also using a spray to keep the deer away. The plant is full of green-turning-to-red cherry tomatoes, again like magic.
Last week, when talking to a workman who was looking at my tiny garden, I showed him my special tomato plant and told him my unusual story. I also said that I know, from a scientific perspective, that birds drop seeds, and so can the wind. He listened carefully to my accounting and said he liked the other tomato plant story better.
In summer in the 1940s, when my friend Sarah Jane and I were preschoolers, we would sometimes have lunch together in the wonderful playhouse that her dad had built. The playhouse had shutters, a window box, a porch with an awning, and wallpaper on the walls inside.
Lunch would consist of tiny tomato sandwiches cut in fourths with a little sugar and pepper sprinkled on the homegrown tomatoes. I can still remember how good they tasted even after 70 years.
Here are two of my watercolor paintings. One is of some of our homegrown beauties and the other is what we do with them: can, can and can. Me and my 97-year-old father, Joseph Evancho, can together and bond. Last year we canned 70 quarts for family to use all winter.
About 20 years ago, I became aware of my dog's obsession with tomatoes. I had picked a dozen or so of them and placed them on the picnic table while I went to get a basket for them. Max, my golden retriever, was out in the yard with me. When I returned to the harvest, I saw him on the table, devouring his tasty treat, tomato insides dripping down his chin and chest. From that point on, each time I walked down to the garden, he would patiently sit on the bank, awaiting my return and his snack.
This behavior continued with my next golden, Gus, except that his fascination was kicked up a notch. About seven or eight years ago, I had too many plants for the garden so I potted two varieties of grape tomatoes in large pots and placed them at the bottom of the walkway leading to the garden. They were just out of Gus' reach. He would casually stroll down to the pots and bark at them. Then he would look back up at me longingly and bark again as if to say, "Gimme my tomatoes!"
Apparently, it's not just humans who love tomatoes.
Disclaimer: Gus only gets one or two grape tomatoes a day and his veterinarian assured me that this practice is OK.
Last year I was plagued by an unruly thieving squirrel who stole a large percentage of my tomato crop, regardless of whether the tomatoes were ripe or not. This year I've taken precautions to ward off the little cur. Think "Caddyshack" meets Martha Stewart. (No squirrels have been injured in this scheme.)
First Published August 8, 2013 4:00 AM