Summer and tomatoes. Summer is the season for tomatoes, and it’s unfortunate when the season is over; but that is the beauty of seasonal food. Summer is my favorite time for vegetables.
When I think about summer, I instantly think of tomatoes. When I reflect on my childhood, among my fondest memories are the vegetables from Grandaddy’s garden – especially the German Johnson tomatoes. My Dad was a manufacturers rep and traveled North Carolina selling furniture, so he was gone 3-4 nights a week. I inherited my love for dining out from my Mom. When Dad would be traveling, Mom would take us out to eat – that was an easy dinner and fun, too. Often in the summer, Mom would throw us three kids in the car and head to Mamaw and Grandaddy’s house on summer evenings for dinner from his garden. We would eat on the picnic tables under the oak trees, near the florist shop in the back yard. The food was heavenly, and southern. Sometimes we wouldn’t have any meat, just vegetables – like sliced tomatoes, fried okra, potatoes, corn, butter beans, green beans, stewed squash, beets and peas just to name a few. But my favorite were the tomatoes. I’m talking about the large, cat-faced, pinkish red skinned juicy tomatoes that our 2 Napkin BLT’s are now made of. I love tomatoes and all their culinary possibilities, like tomato sandwiches (with mayo and light bread), sliced tomatoes with sea salt and great olive oil, macaroni and tomatoes, tomato slices with fried okra. I remember seeing the tomatoes on the vine, suckering tomatoes with Grandaddy and watching them ripen from green to red on the vine. It seemed like that took forever. Grandaddy taught me how to sucker and tie tomatoes.
Grandaddy, my Mom’s dad, was from Iredell county, before Iredell county was cool. His name was Stamie Stroud and he was a big strapping fellow with big tough from working hands. He grew up on NC901 halfway between Mocksville and Harmony. In his youth, driving tobacco from home to RJ Reynolds in Winston-Salem was a three day journey. After unsuccessfully trying to convince his Dad to raise beef cattle, he moved to High Point to work in the furniture industry. He told the Lord, if you get me a job, I will serve you all of my life, which He did, and he did. He went to work for Globe Parlor Furniture doing piece work in seat caning and during the depression was earning more salary than his supervisors, which he wouldn’t allow. He gave back some of his earnings. He eventually became the cabinet room foreman. It was here at Globe that someone gave Grandaddy a German Johnson tomato plant in the mid 50’s and that was all she wrote for him and eventually me. He planted the German Johnson tomato plant and loved them. They have always been some of the best tasting tomatoes we ever had. Grandaddy saved the seeds from his biggest and best tomatoes for over 50 years and would germinate them in late February. He would plant them in the garden after the last frost and we would then patiently tie, sucker, tie, sucker and wait until July. No matter how soon you got them in the ground, it was always after the 4th of July before they would ripen.
One of our best tomato fans was Skipper Beck, my buddy. Come June, he would come in and start asking, “Hey Noble, when are the tomatoes gonna get here?” “In July like last year” I would say every year. No matter when you plant them, it’s July for the big beef steak tomatoes. That is the beauty, that is the romance of summer foods. Who wants a tomato sandwich in January? Not me, and I am a big tomato sandwich kinda guy, but they are best in the summer. I have grown to love tomato sandwiches on organic, whole wheat breads.
Most of our tomatoes in the restaurants now come from Fisher Farms and New Town Farms.
Think about the tomatoes you are enjoying now, for the next few days or weeks. Isn’t it the time of year and the tomatoes and the local veggies that just feel like summer? Like the pool, and the beach and the heat…. and the tomato sandwich. Before you know it, someone will be asking me when the tomatoes are going to be ready. As far as the season end goes, we can start dreaming about cassolette, acorn squash and butternut squash and Indian corn.