By Jean Gordon

Summer’s delicacy — vine ripened tomatoes from a home vegetable garden.

One friend told me recently his father would often take hot biscuits to the garden, pull fresh tomatoes from the vine, stuff the biscuits with tomatoes and eat them right then and there. 

I never did that, but as a kid I did pick cherry tomatoes right off the vines and eat them without a thought of washing them. No biscuits, just straight up juicy, ripe tomatoes.

Is there any fruit/vegetable better than a home grown tomato?

I grew up loving tomatoes and never got over it.  Summer lunches around our house were fresh tomatoes between two slices of white bread with mayonnaise on both sides. When the corn crop came in my three sisters and me would add a fresh piece of corn on the cob to our lunch plate. 

That, my friends was the best summer lunch ever and made gardening not so bad, after all.

Our family had a vegetable garden that required long hours of hard work. While our parents worked at Stonecutter Mills and Tanner Companies, it was up to us to take care of the garden during the day time while they were at work.

I was grown before I discovered green beans could be found on a shelf in the grocery store. Imagine my surprise at the variety of jellies also in can jars at the store. 

 In addition to the bushels of green beans we harvested, there were also peas, squash, cucumbers, lima beans, several varieties of hot and sweet peppers, corn, and rows and rows of tomatoes. The peppers became the ingredient for the best chow-chow east of the Mississippi River. 

 In the earlier days of gardening there were other veggies such as lettuce, radishes, onions and even potatoes.

It was not unusual for our garden to contain as many as 350 tomato plants that seemingly required constant care.

Mama retired from her job at Tanner Companies at age 40 to become a full-time gardener. Daddy continued his job at Stonecutter until retirement age and then they gardened full-time.

Planting over 300 tomato plants and the work involved was mind boggling. After planting, weeding, spreading newspapers in the middle of the rows, covering plants with large aluminum cans for a while, staking them and finally picking them, was always a work in progress.

Tomato picking was a delicate job. Daddy taught us you could only put a certain number of tomatoes in a five gallon white bucket, so as not to bruise any of the tomatoes. Five-gallon bucket after bucket, we hauled the tomatoes from the garden to the produce shed.

Our parents wanted their produce customers who traveled from the county line to county line to have the very best possible.  

Daddy and mama sold produce on the honor system. If they weren’t home, a customer simply weighed the produce and left the money in a box on the table. 

Whatever vegetables weren’t sold during the summer were canned for winter. Every vegetable or fruit that could be put in a jar or a ziplock bag was either canned or frozen.

After our parents became empty nesters, they planted even bigger gardens and established a lucrative produce business. 

I happen to know farmers never get paid for all the hard work involved, but my parents were able to supplement their incomes and they loved gardening. It was therapeutic for both.

This time of year I’m perfectly satisfied with a tomato sandwich for lunch every day, but when the season ends, so do the sandwiches. My sandwiches aren’t as fancy as the three decker one depicted on the cover of the July edition of Our State magazine, but they are fabulous. 

  I was probably the only kid at Cool Springs Middle School back in the day to take a tomato sandwich for lunch as the school season began as the tomato season was ending. There was nothing like a soggy tomato sandwich kept safe in a locker.  

A few years ago, I discovered a recipe for tomato pie from Paula Deen.

The pie filling consist of four fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and an onion; the pie’s topping is mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese and mayonnaise (Duke’s). Baked in a deep dish pie shell, it is simply delicious. I would take tomato pie over any other food available in this part of the country.

I’m glad I discovered early on in life about tomatoes— summer’s best delicacy. 

And yes, I am a tomato addict. 

Jean Gordon is a former editor/reporter for The Daily Courier in Forest City.  She began her journalism career in 1970 at the Rutherford County News and joined the Courier staff in 1994.