I had – sitting in a pretty compote I bought for fifty cents at a sale this summer – quite a few ripe tomatoes from my front-yard “farm” and it seemed a good day to make gazpacho (below).
Seeing the tomatoes reminded me of the first full summer in my house. I planted some flowers, herbs and two tomato plants in the heavy clay soil, and tended them carefully.
One day I saw some wee white flowers; then a small, hard green orb, about the size of a marble. My tomato was growing!
From marble to ping pong ball, then to softball size, the green tomato grew. The color changed, too – green to brown, brown to brilliant crimson.
One day when at the plant, I held the tomato in my hand. It detached almost on its own, and I knew it was time for me to bring the fruit inside.
It was clearly the most beautiful tomato ever grown. Worthy of a full page spread in the finest cooking magazine! I was quite certain it would make the most delicious BLT I’d ever known. Or perhaps, I would enjoy it with some fresh mozzarella. Oh, the anticipation!
I placed it carefully on the window sill, and every day would pick it up, carefully turn it over in my hand, as I observed every millimeter of its crimson skin. Then I would place it back on the sunny ledge, where I could gaze at it as I puttered at the sink.
One day when I picked up the tomato, I discovered my hand was damp. No, wet. My beloved tomato, whose skin had begun to pucker a bit, was turning to liquid.
Regretfully, and unceremoniously (unless you count the parade of fruit flies that seemed to have appeared), I slipped it into the disposal and ground it up.
I’ve thought of that moment often in the years that have followed. I still grow the tomatoes – and even more things (in pots, not that awful clay!). But now I eat the fruit from my garden (though I do keep it on the shelf a bit longer than I probably should, as I still love to look at it!). And I love it!
I realized that my first tomato really wasn’t allowed to live up to its promise – the promise that it was not only lovely, but delicious. The promise of it becoming part of a lunch or dinner that would celebrated harvest, life and doing things for oneself.
What is perfect, admired, coveted can still pass before the promised is reached.
So, I made my gazpacho with my own tomatoes and hot peppers.
The yellow peppers aren’t quite ready to harvest yet, but aren’t they pretty? And it was delicious!
Later that evening, I returned to the book I’m reading – Tina Brown’s “Diana Chronicles.”
It is surprisingly good. I truly thought that all books on this topic had been written and rewritten and there was little to add. But Brown is a solid and thoughtful writer and the book is well written and researched. She adds a historical and psychological dimension that looks deeper into all the players and their families than anything I’ve seen before.
For whatever reason, I thought of Diana as that first tomato of mine. Something plain, drab, simple and very small evolved into something bright, colorful and beautiful. Something admired. There were those who wanted to put her on a shelf, bring her out for special things. Using the food metaphor, she was expected to compliment the main dish, not be the main dish.
And, before her full promise could be reached, she was gone. As unceremoniously and violently crushed as my tomato, surrounded by a paparazzi of fruit flies.
In her case – and that of the woebegone but lovely tomato, it was less about living up to the promise than surviving the roadblocks that contribute to it.
The question: Are we living up to our promise? Do we even know what it is? That’s one I need to think about.
Meanwhile, here’s my gazpacho recipe. Like many of my recipes, the quantities are based on what you have!
In a food processor (or blender; you may need to do batches) pulse:
½ green pepper
½ yellow pepper
½ red pepper (or any combination of the above)
1 English cucumber (or regular cuke with seeds removed)
Put in a bowl, holding out about a handful of the fairly finely-chopped veggies. You’ll add these back later for texture.
1 medium onion
2-4 cloves of garlic
1-2 hot peppers (red banana, jalapeno, your other favorites)
4-6 tomatoes (depending on size and size of your processor. I used about 6 softball-sized.)
Cut them in half and squeeze juice and seeds into processor, then fruit.
1 bunch cilantro (optional)
Puree, adding back in the largest portion of veggies (Still keep out that handful). Add sea salt, pepper, about 1 T. cumin (I like a lot.) If you don’t have hot peppers above, add some hot sauce or cayenne.
Pour mixture into large bowl and add up to 2 c. of tomato juice, depending on how thin you like it. Add back in the chopped veggies. Also add juice of one lime or some red wine vinegar. Sample and adjust seasonings to match your taste.
Serve with croutons.