Savoring the sweet taste of summer
I took a bite of the tomato. Little celebrations began happening inside my mouth. It was the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. It was the Rolling Stones in concert. It was the northern lights and the Tall Ships and the Perseide Meteor S...
I took a bite of the tomato. Little celebrations began happening inside my mouth. It was the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. It was the Rolling Stones in concert. It was the northern lights and the Tall Ships and the Perseide Meteor Shower.
I took another bite.
This was not, of course, a tomato plucked from a bin at the grocery store. This was our first garden tomato of the summer. Or fall, I suppose. I had twisted it from the vine that evening. I had held it in my hand, a bulging crimson softball with a green stem at its North Pole. It felt warm. I squeezed it gently to check for softness. Oh, yeah. This baby was ready.
Now it was exploding on my tongue, and the juices were setting off all the alarms, telling those taste buds to wake up and find out what a tomato is supposed to taste like.
What could make this disc of juicy red pulp so good, I wondered. How can this be when for the rest of the year tomatoes taste like red licorice left out in the rain?
And then I got to thinking. I know what it is.
It begins with that powdery humus in which we carefully placed that infant tomato plant, the soil that's been 10,000 years in the making, the sum of all the decayed and decomposed vegetation that's accumulated since the last glacier. An inch every 1,000 years or so, they say. A foot in 10,000 or 12,000 years. That's how we make soil here.
The fledgling tomato plant wiggled its toes into that duff and sent down tendrils of root and began sucking up the nutrients of long-gone creatures large and small, of leaves that fell from trees we never saw, of extinct and forgotten insects. Yes, maybe even ticks.
We watered those vulnerable baby plants with Lake Superior water bristling with diatoms and zooplankton and lake trout breath and all manner of invisible goodies that grow strong bodies 12 ways.
And while those wispy roots probed the subterranean crannies, those soft green leaves above ground began to luxuriate in the tanning booth of long July days. They photosynthesized that solar power into millions of cells and began producing the delicate yellow blossoms that would someday become fruit. Or vegetable. I'll let you decide that.
And on muggy August nights, the skies would cut loose and the heavens would unleash all the water they'd been borrowing from Lake Superior and little brook trout streams and beaver ponds all across the North Country. That clear, cool liquid would drip down those fuzzy leaves and into that 10,000-year-old soil, down, down to where the hairy tendrils could take a sip and send it up again.
More cells. More blossoms. Then the green golfballs, hanging from the vines.
And now, in the weak light of September, this lovely red sphere. And the wagon-wheel red discs on my plate. And the opening ceremonies in my mouth.
What an amazing thing.
A real tomato.
SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org .