It's starting. The tomatoes are coming in....into my kitchen, that is. With the cool spring, moderate weather and rain, I was thinking maybe I would be spared the agony of the tomato adventure this year. When I think about last summer, I remember that every flat surface in my kitchen was covered in tomatoes. I stewed them, canned them, mixed them with okra and onion for soup, made homemade Rotel and frozen little Roma tomatoes whole. They were on my table for every meal, sliced on a plate.
Every time I saw that man—my husband—coming in the house with another bucket, I cringed. My back ached from standing on my little gel mat peeling, slicing, stewing tomatoes. What makes all this work unbearable is that I don’t like tomatoes!
Every summer of my childhood, I watched as my mother, father, grandmother and great aunt made a big fuss about summer tomatoes. They squealed with joy when the first tomatoes were brought home by my daddy, a farmer, and placed on the kitchen windowsill to ripen to the perfect shade of red—brighter than barn red but not crimson.
Mother had a special knife she used to peel tomatoes, the only way to serve them in our house. No one was allowed to use the long serrated knife for any other purpose. Her tomatoes were to be peeled and cold.
Grandmother and Aunt Ruth would pile sliced tomatoes on a big white platter and place it on the table with a look of accomplishment like they had just presented a delicacy to an honored guest.
“Don’t you want to at least try to like a tomato?” my mother asked me every summer of my life until she died the year I turned 39.
“No, thank you,” I would reply on my first refusal.
“Oh, come on and try one,” Aunt Ruth would say. “You like ketchup. You should like tomatoes. You like soup and spaghetti sauce, so you should like tomatoes.”
“But I don’t like raw ones,” I replied. They were never convinced.
The next day at lunch they (my mother, grandmother and great aunt) would again place a big plate of sliced tomatoes, bacon and lettuce for BLTs on our 1960-style kitchen table. The ritual would begin all over again.
It was as if I were a family embarrassment. We would go out to eat or to someone’s home and they would pass the tomatoes, and as taught, I would politely say, “No thank you.” My mother would look up over her bifocals and say, “Nancy doesn’t eat tomatoes.” The hostess would give her a nodding sympathetic look.
Since I was an only child living in a household with four adults, I was outnumbered. I never gave in. I ate bacon sandwiches—just bacon and mustard.
How could anyone who loves being Southern as much as I do, not like tomatoes?
I endured all this questioning at home and thought it would stop there. What did I do but marry a tomato-loving man from a family of tomato lovers? Same scenario plays out every time there is a family gathering.
It also happens with my friends. We go to a restaurant and I order the salad without tomatoes. One says, “You don’t like tomatoes?” with that squinty look of disbelief. I might get a taco and say, “Please hold the tomatoes.”
“Hold the tomatoes? It’s not a taco without diced tomatoes."
It sounds like a broken record that will not stop playing, like the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray wakes up to the same day over and over.
I must admit that I do like fried green tomatoes. That’s just because they are in the same fried family as a French fry, and you can put ketchup on them. Maybe that gets me back in the good graces of my family, friends and in-laws. If I lived in the Mid-West or the North and didn’t like tomatoes, would it be such a big deal?
So, I'll say it again. I don’t like tomatoes! Furthermore, I don’t like turnip greens or anything else that looks like dandelion leaves. And while we’re confessing Southern sin, I don’t enjoy or think I would have liked William Faulkner at all. So there!