Tomorrow, December 3, I will indulge in a little temporary fossil-fuel-assisted climate change by boarding a jet aeroplane and sitting in it while it flies from Indiana to San Francisco. It will be a brief two-week visit with my old dad, and I expect to indulge my cravings for fresh vegetables by buying everything that fruits this time of year in the Bay Area. Yes, the Great Drought calls into question the permanent nature of that climate, but please, just sell me five pounds of tomatoes. I’m only here for two weeks. (Oddly enough, as I write this, a huge storm front is raining on much of California, raising worries about mudslides, but doing little to change the long-term levels of water in the state.)
Here in Indiana at the Grant St. Micro-Agricultural Research Station (a.k.a. my 100-square-foot front yard food garden), we had our first killing frost in late October. Dozens of green and foolishly expectant tomatoes still clung to the vines. Knowing better than they did about what was coming, I picked them and took them to the basement to ripen. They were hard and green as Granny Smith apples.
Last night, December 1, we sliced up the last of those garden tomatoes. It was a little mushy and bland, but offered just enough of the mildly piquant aromatic flavor that only a tomato can deliver to remind us of what it is to pull the red ripe fruit from the vine in the early evening of a day late in August and slice it, still warm, into the company of crisp japanese cukes, scallions, fennel and fresh mozzarella.
I will eat tomatoes this coming week in Los Altos, but back in Indiana I don’t expect to eat another fresh one for what…maybe half a year? I won’t buy the imports as a matter of principle and taste, and though I might be tempted by a locally greenhoused, hydroponically grown tomato, I can’t really find the craving strong enuf to overcome my distaste with the idea of growing a food plant by dangling its roots in pea gravel and flooding it with a kool-aid of fertilizer and nutrients. Even if it’s organic. Even if it’s from a solar heated greenhouse.
Eating each food in its season is not some cerebral ideology I adopt in an effort to buy solidarity with my fellow foodies. It’s simply that this far into my life I’ve finally realized that keen appetite and anticipation are the better part of pleasure. Call it foreplay for the palate. Last night I ate the last Indiana garden tomato. Next week I will eat a few of the last vine ripened tomatoes in a warmer climate. And this March I will plant tomato seeds in the basement, watch them sprout and raise their tiny leaves to the gro-lamps. In May I will bring those starts up from the basement, harden them off outdoors in the cool spring evenings, and then plant them in the warming soil. In late July I will pick the first of them.
I can imagine the taste. I can wait for my pleasures. I will.