Homegrown Tomatoes

Homegrown tomatoes home grown tomatoes
Wha’d life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things money can’t buy
That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes

Every year around this time, I go to Spotify and I crank up Guy Clark’s “Homegrown Tomatoes” because it is that time of year boys and girls. Cherokee Purples, Brandywine, Big Boy, Better Boy, Celebrity, Rutgers. Get you cages wired together and cut your stakes because when you get them planted this weekend in a couple of months you will be like a kid in a candy store anticipating that first one. Staring from your back porch, daring those little bastard black birds to come anywhere near that one tomato that for whatever reason seems to ripen days before the other ones. You have your bread already on the saucer and that would be white “loaf bread”. Sunbeam, Merita, Bunny or Bost but it has to be white. Cut the sandwich in half preferably diagonally, it just seems to taste better. You have your salt and pepper shakers on tap but lastly the glue that holds it all together, the straw that stirs the drink, the Gin to my Tonic and that would be Duke’s Mayonnaise. Not Hellmann’s, (Hell man, really?) Not Bama or Kraft or Lord help us, Miracle Whip. Give me that soybean oil, eggswater, distilled and cider vinegarsalt, oleoresin paprika, natural flavorscalcium disodium EDTA added to protect flavor. That is Duke’s Mayonnaise. It has to be Duke’s which by the way this is the only time I say anything positive about anything call Duke.

Ain’t nothin’ in the world that I like better
Than bacon & lettuce & home grown tomatoes
Up in the mornin’ out in the garden
Get you a ripe one don’t get a hard one
Plant ’em in the spring eat ’em in the summer
All winter without ’em’s a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin’ & diggin’
Everytime I go out and pick me a big one

The fruit that is a tomato. Why do we Southern’s love them so. Reason number 1 is the tomato sandwich. I can’t tell you with 100-percent certainty that the tomato sandwich originated in the South or that it’s a purely Southern phenomenon but I think it is a “southern thing” because there is no Duke’s Mayo up north. What I can tell you is that the Southern tomato sandwich, simple as it is, elicits a “Christmas-morning” excitement from most below the Mason-Dixon line (especially that first tomato sandwich each summer). And with one bite, it will do the same for you.

I’ve been out to eat and that’s for sure
But it’s nothin’ a homegrown tomato won’t cure
Put ’em in a salad put ’em in a stew
You can make your very own tomato juice
Eat ’em with eggs eat ’em with gravy
Eat ’em with beans pinto or navy
Put ’em on the side put ’em in the middle
Put a home grown tomato on a hotcake griddle

Another reason we Southerns love tomatoes is Fried Green Tomatoes. We love our tomatoes so much, we can’t even wait for them to ripen before we pick ’em, batter ’em, give them a bath in hot fat and consume them. We were eating them before it became a chick flick. Southerners now make them best (and probably most often). Our region’s finest chefs from NOLA to Asheville to Greenville to Charleston. A second debate surrounds what kind of crust covers a true Southern fried green tomato. Some think the slices in egg wash, then a flour and cornmeal mix. Others opt for a quick dunk in buttermilk and then a dusting of straight cornmeal. Either one is good just don’t use breadcrumbs. Southern Culture here in Greenville has excellent Fried Green Tomatoes.

Example Number 3, Chow Chow. A tangy, spicy condiment made most often from green tomatoes (but sometimes red ones too). They’re combined and pickled with peppers, onion and vinegar resulting in a relish that adds its sweet-hot punch to slow-cooked veggies like collard greens, pinto beans and field peas. They tell me there is evidence that chow chow originated in South Carolina, but a few food scholars tie it to Chinese rail workers in California. I don’t know where Chow Chow was invented but I can tell you the best Chow Chow was made in Indian Land/ Fort Mill SC by my great aunt Alta Howie. She was my grandmother’s sister. She had the “Midas Touch” when it came to Chow Chow. She would make batches filling up Mason jars full of the nectar from the tomato Gods and at Christmas I would find my jars awaiting me. I never did tell her or maybe I did but that was number 1 on my alltime Christmas presents and is to this day.

If I’s to change this life that I lead
I’d be Johnny tomato seed
Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see
When I die don’t bury me
In a box in a cemetery
Out in the garden would be much better
I could be pushin’ up homegrown tomatoes

Lastly why we southerner’s love tomatoes is Tomato Pie. Yes, you read it A PIE. This is my region’s savory claim to tomato fame, and it is, without a doubt, born and bred down here, baking several of our beloved culinary traditions into one handy-dandy package. Tomatoes picked at their peak are mounded with cheese, garden-fresh herbs and maybe a little crumbled bacon, and then it’s all glued together with mayo inside a homemade crust. Some recipes include hot sauce’s kick, and slivers of Vidalia onion find their way into to versions, too. My sister in law, Linda makes a bad ass pie with jalapenos on hers. Also the Hungry Drover in Travelers Rest SC adds slabs of bacon to theirs which is also excellent. It has Bacon. Duh.

I could go on with tomatoes. I love fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and vinegar or a Caprese Salad with mozzarella and a Balsamic reduction. Doesn’t get any better. I have a lot to be thankful for in my life and a biggy is my grandmother teaching me things as a child that I never forgot even something as simple as growing tomatoes. I am forever grateful.

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