Homegrown Tomatoes

I found a brown paper bag full of tomatoes on my doorstep, along with homemade tomato chutney. I don’t know where the stuff came from, but the tomatoes were homegrown.

If there is a pleasure more marvelous than homegrown tomatoes, it’s probably illegal. And I don’t want to know about it since I come from Baptists who don’t do illegal things because it could lead to a life of secular music.

But I was reared on homegrown tomatoes. And there will be tomatoes at my funeral. I’m serious. Funeral guests will be encouraged to place tomato products into my casket.

Any tomato product will do, as long as it’s not tomato aspic. I would rather have a colonoscopy in a Third-World nation than eat tomato aspic.

When I was a kid, there was a woman in our church named Lida Ann who always made tomato aspic. She peppered her aspic with mature green olives, capers, and little gray canned shrimp. She placed her dish on the buffet table and it looked like a giant, R-rated donut.

My mother would force me to eat it because, “Lida Ann is a sweet old woman, and she went to all that trouble.”

“I don’t care if she’s Forty-Mule-Team Borax,” I would say, “I don’t wanna eat it.”

Then my mother would pinch me until I cried. So I would shuffle toward the potluck line, use a butter knife, and smear the tomato-flavored hell onto a cracker.

Miss Lida Ann would kiss my cheek and say, “Why don’t you take the rest home, since you’re the only one who eats it.”

Miss Lida Ann would wrap it in aluminum foil and send it with me. And for the rest of the week, my mother would leave it on the counter. The stuff was so bad that all the flies pitched in to get the screen door fixed.

My mother was an avid tomato gardener. People would come from miles around to buy her delicacies.

She’d place tomatoes on a fold-up table at the end of our driveway and sell them using the honor system. But the system was broken.

Sometimes my mother’s tomatoes would mysteriously disappear. She would use guilt to make me confess, but I would deny allegations and remind her that there were a lot of starving people in the world.

When my wife and I first got married, we used to drive the Highway 127 Yard Sale (also known as “The World’s Longest Yardsale”) in search of tomatoes.

Actually, we went for two reasons.

Firstly: because it was cheap fun for newlyweds who were so poor that our cat got nervous every year at Thanksgiving.

And secondly: homegrown tomatoes.

Along the seven-hundred-mile route were farmers selling buckets of tomatoes. And I mean the hard stuff like my mother once grew.

There were Early Girls, Better Boys, Beefsteaks, Cherokee Purples, Superstars, Brandywines, Mortgage Lifters, Bama Lama Ding-Dongs, Baby Makers, Marriage Wreckers, and all kinds of heirlooms.

We would eat them like apples. And sometimes, we would fix tomato sandwiches with Sunbeam bread, Duke’s mayonnaise, and tomato slices that were bigger than a grown man’s foot.

And when we finished eating, we had to change our clothes.

I tried growing tomatoes one year. I ordered special buckets from a mail-order catalog. The buckets had holes in the bottoms. You were supposed to hang them from hooks and let the tomato stalks grow downward, but it was a joke.

I’m sure the buckets work fine for some, but the squirrels ate my tomatoes. So one summer, I had to resort to a life of crime.

Every morning, I would drive to my in-laws’ house. My father-in-law had a tomato garden that he slaved over.

Before sunrise, I would roll into his driveway with my headlights turned off. I would park, make sure the coast was clear, steal a whole bag full of tomatoes, and head for Mexico. My father-in-law never caught me.

He was a great guy. He used to make the best tomato chutney you ever had. I’m not sure what was in it, but I could polish off three or four jars in one sitting.

On one Fourth of July—I’ll never forget this—my father-in-law gave me several Mason jars of chutney and a five-gallon bucket of tomatoes.

He said, “I thought you deserved your own batch of chutney, since you like it so much.”

I almost cried. His gift meant so much to me. Because when someone gives you a tomato, they aren’t just giving you a tomato. They’re giving you something much more. At least that’s how I see it.

Words will be forgotten. Friends will come and go. Civilizations will turn to dust. Heaven and Earth will pass away. But a brown paper sack of homegrown tomatoes will last for a thousand tomorrows, and then some. Because a tomato is tangible proof that God loves us.

And tomato aspic is proof that hell is real.


  1. Ed (Bear) - June 3, 2022 9:27 am


    Sounds like you love tomatoes the way I love pop tarts!

    I know there’s a world of difference between them but you have to admit that at least they’re both edible, unlike tomato aspic.

    I was consuming one unfrosted mass produced tart first thing every morning with a cup of strong black joe as I read your daily inspirations!

    Recently, my wife and I started this detox diet that prohibits pop tarts and various other toxic chemicals that I love and enjoy. It was my daughter’s idea… she wants us to live longer. Kinda seemed counterproductive to me. But after a week I must admit that I do feel better.

    Fortunately, tomatoes are on the diet. And I do love a good tomato sandwich!

  2. Virginia Russell - June 3, 2022 10:07 am

    There’s just two things that money can’t buy

  3. Jimpa - June 3, 2022 10:25 am

    That’s true love, and homegrown tomatoes!

  4. Emily Walls Ray - June 3, 2022 10:43 am

    I enjoyed your tomatoes column so much, Sean. My plants are growing and we had rain in Richmond, Va. last night! Emily originally from Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa

  5. Joy Jacobs - June 3, 2022 11:20 am

    Your description of tomato aspic makes me glad I grew up in the north. ❤️

  6. Laura - June 3, 2022 11:21 am

    My dad grew a lot of tomatoes every summer, over 200 plants. It was only fitting when he passed on that we had a tomato plant by his casket with the most beautiful tomatoes on the vine.

    Thank you for this story.

    • Cathy - June 4, 2022 3:08 pm

      Sean, you are right about homegrown tomatoes but, as I have stated in a previous post, you missed the mark on Mayonnaise!

  7. Jean - June 3, 2022 11:24 am

    I agree about tomato aspic….nasty stuff!! Fresh home grown tomatoes cannot be compared to commercially grown ones….Its just like 2 different types of food. No comparison

  8. Paul McCutchen - June 3, 2022 11:27 am

    I have a different group of tomatoes this year. I am hoping there will be enough that will make it to the freezer for the winter but only time will tell, One that came off early is called a Lemon Joy. It is yellow and really a good tasting “mater”, Just bought the seedling because the lady told me they were really good. I learn about new varieties every year.

  9. Anne Arthur - June 3, 2022 11:56 am

    Tomato is comfort food. Yes, yes, and yes to eating tomatoes like apples or on a still warm piece of bread with a hint of butter and fresh basil. Never knew about tomato aspic and I suspect I don’t even need to try that one. Thanks for the tomato story, Sean.

  10. Marie - June 3, 2022 11:57 am

    As I write here in NC, our 31 tomato plants are thriving. Dark green ‘maters are turning very light green so we know pink and then deep red aren’t too far off!! Tomatoes and sweet corn…..nature’s irresistible candy!! So glad you are on the correct mayo train!!! Anything other than Duke’s is a travesty!!

  11. missgm65 - June 3, 2022 11:59 am

    Loved “The stuff was so bad that all the flies pitched in to get the screen door fixed.” Thanks for the early morning laugh!

  12. Priscilla Rodgers - June 3, 2022 12:11 pm

    Yum! Can’t wait to get fresh ones here!

  13. Kathy Dunn Niceville FL - June 3, 2022 12:15 pm

    When I got to the part that said you had to change clothes after eating tomato sandwiches I knew we were kindred spirits when it comes to tomatoes! I love summer because it means weeks of mater sandwiches!

  14. kenneth michael somerset - June 3, 2022 12:18 pm

    I love to grow them , but i will not eat them. 63 years and no tomatoes. Homemade sauce, salsa is out of this world. But i will not eat one. Actually the first thing i ever grew was a tomato, the look on my grandfathers face when i presented it at the table was soul lifting. I walked on water, until he wanted me to eat it with him.

  15. Dale Parsons - June 3, 2022 12:30 pm

    Never heard of tomato aspic. Did you make it up?

  16. gwenthinks - June 3, 2022 12:38 pm

    Love it! Spot on- tomato sandwich with Dukes mayo!

  17. Donna W - June 3, 2022 12:55 pm

    There is NOTHING that can beat a freshly picked tomato and mayo sandwich. Not steak, not seafood, NOTHING! I could live on them everyday. I am a huge fan of fried green tomato sandwiches too. Gotta go….my mouth is watering. 🍅🍅🍅

  18. Suellen - June 3, 2022 1:00 pm

    It’ll be a few weeks before the tomatoes come in here in Indiana. I agree with you there’s nothing like a good homegrown tomato. Fortunately we have a tomato fairy that leaves them on our porch too. We had someone at church like your Lida Ann only her name was Mildred. She had a bigger repertroire than tomato aspic but everything was awful. She was also one of the sweetest women. Always smiling even though she was a widow who lost her only child in Vietnam. Everyone ate whatever she donated just because.

  19. T-Bird - June 3, 2022 1:16 pm

    I once fired a yard man for stealing a tomato that I had been protecting for 2 weeks (it was taking along time to turn).

  20. Donna - June 3, 2022 2:00 pm

    Laughing laughing out loud over here— and remembering when we grew more tomatoes than we could ever eat. Homegrown tomatoes are like homemade cookies with real butter. Delicacies that bring back a world of happiness. 😊

  21. Brien Crothers - June 3, 2022 2:17 pm

    Thanks for lightening things up. Hugs.

  22. Harriet - June 3, 2022 2:20 pm

    This is one of your best ones, Sean. We Southerners do love our tomatoes and tomato sandwiches. My daddy grew some of the best. This brings sweet memories of him and his tomato garden. Oh yes, and little white peas.

  23. Jan - June 3, 2022 2:25 pm


  24. dbdicks430 - June 3, 2022 2:27 pm

    In western NC, we have to build “Alcatraz-type” electric fences to protect our vegetable garden from deer, bears and other critters. This year we are only growing two varieties of tomatoes especially bred for the mountains and our short growing season, as well as 8-foot corn “G funk 90″…I’m not kidding. Come see us in August and you’ll have the best tomato sandwich ever with a side of corn on the cob! Love your writing…yes, tomato aspic is pretty nasty.

  25. Gail Bohlman - June 3, 2022 2:30 pm

    Sean..you can make even a story about tomatoes funny & delightful. Thank you for the giggles.

  26. Joe - June 3, 2022 2:59 pm

    Love tomato sandwiches with Dukes. Do you use sugar or salt and pepper. I like both.

  27. Patricia Gibson - June 3, 2022 3:05 pm

    Love it! And love homegrown tomatoes 🍅 Hope you are liking your new home.

  28. Tami - June 3, 2022 3:22 pm

    “the flies pitched in to get the screen door fixed”!!!!! So funny!

  29. annhilltop - June 3, 2022 3:47 pm

    First time I read your blog on the advice of a friend, and loved your humor and the punchline. I am a Yankee, but my mom and dad were from Virginia and West Virginia, and I remember church suppers with tomato aspic and ambrosia salad, and all things jellied or casseroled. I subscribed to read more of your writing. Thanks!

  30. Cheryl Hill - June 3, 2022 4:01 pm

    “The stuff was so bad that all the flies pitched in to get the screen door fixed.” Thank you Sean, that made me laugh out loud. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. I grow my own tomatoes in the Summer because I love homegrown tomatoes too! And I agree with you about tomato aspic. I think it was created as revenge for something.

  31. Alice Grimes - June 3, 2022 4:15 pm

    Amen my friend!

  32. MermaidGr@mmy - June 3, 2022 4:26 pm

    So true. For years, I’ve bought tomatoes from a couple who also sell honey year round. It’s the honor system with a produce scale hanging from the tree next to the driveway a stack of brown paper lunch bags and a jar with a slit in the top for money. You’d know the tomatoes were available when a piece of cardboard with a large hand-drawn and crayon- colored tomato showed up, leaning on their mailbox on the side of Old Peachtree. A permanent sign with Local Honey and a picture of a jar of honey was affixed to the front fence. I’ve waited for the tomato sign to go up every year. I’m always afraid of what I would do if that sign never goes back up.

  33. Anne Hammer - June 3, 2022 4:59 pm

    I grew up picking tomatoes off the vine and eating them like an apple, just as you did. It is one of fond memories from my childhood.

  34. Carol Pilmer - June 3, 2022 5:52 pm

    Right there with you, Sean….while growing up, my Dad and I would have the BEST discussions while weeding the corn and tending the Tomatoes! Love those Tomato 🍅 and Mayo sandwiches! After I as married, Daddy and I shared a garden plot…Loved the days when I came home from work and found the picnic table covered with ripe tomatoes! A true reminder I was loved!

  35. Sherri Salvaggio Hill - June 3, 2022 7:25 pm

    Tomatoes warm from the garden and a salt shaker! Life is good.

  36. Karen - June 3, 2022 7:38 pm

    Now I want fresh tomatoes. Sadly, it is too early. I join you in the avoidance of tomato aspic. However, I would eat it before I would have a colonoscopy.😁

  37. Linda Moon - June 3, 2022 8:28 pm

    I like home-grown tomatoes, secular music, and John Prine’s pleasant smiles. I agree with your theology of the afterlife — both places. And I expect to be where God and His tomatoes are…but not any time soon!

  38. Duane Shelley - June 3, 2022 8:37 pm

    I’m from South Alabama and did not know what tomato aspic was. Had to look it up. Don’t think I would like it either.

  39. Bill Woodward - June 3, 2022 8:49 pm

    I cannot tell you how much I look forward to reading g you each day . You inspire so much from so many . May God continue to bless you and yours abundantly !

  40. Rosemary Mize - June 3, 2022 9:45 pm

    So true🍅

  41. Susan - June 3, 2022 10:37 pm

    Your story has conjured up so many tomato memories both good and bad. Firstly, let me clear up I do not like tomatoes in any shape, form, or fashion. My mother was jointly hosting a bridesmaids’ luncheon. For weeks, all I heard was how Aunt Josephine ( name changed ) was making her fabulous Tomato Aspic. Tomato Aspic this and Tomato Aspic that. My 12 year old self imagined some towering pyramid of tomatoes stuck together with toothpicks with olives, and cheese cubes stuck on it with toothpicks. Little did I know, it was basically tomato soup with added gelatin, olive slices, and perhaps sliced Vienna sauces molded in a fancy mold ceremoniously unmolded on a beautiful tray of lettuce. I didn’t get it. AT ALL!
    Some years later, I married a farmer. We are coming up on 44 years. In year 2 or 3, he decided we would make it big. He planted five acres of tomato. Let me emphasize, it was a bumper crop! Yes haw! So did every other farmer within a 100 mile radius. You couldn’t give tomatoes away. Reminder, I do not like tomatoes. We put tomatoes every way possible. Family ate them fried, stewed, sliced, covered, smothered, and capped! That was the summer everyone but me began to take on a tinge of red coloration! 🤣😂Fond memories, Sean.

  42. Pam Williams - June 4, 2022 3:52 am

    Great article! My Mom used to fix Tom’s up aspic. 🤮

  43. DeeDee - June 4, 2022 4:31 am

    I am 💯 with you, Sean! Had my first two BLTs of the season tonight! Pure Heaven!

  44. Bruce Crittenden - June 4, 2022 4:36 am

    There is only two things money can’t buy. True love and homegrown tomatoes.

  45. Ann - June 4, 2022 11:31 am

    I love tomatoes but have a really hard time finding any that are as good as the ones you find…being raised in Michigan and now living in Florida, it’s impossible to get the true flavor of a Michigan tomato!!….I find beautiful ones…but little flavor….I’m still searching and hopeful!🍅

  46. Vince - June 4, 2022 12:57 pm

    Being well North of the Mason Dixon line we bear up under store bought tomatoes for about half the year. Hothouse tomatoes are verboten so we splurge on vine ripened. Happy days return when the first cherry or grape tomatoes come out of the garden and start fresh homegrown tomato season. And doesn’t eat large tomatoes like an apple? I’m pretty sure Eve actually gave Adam a tomato.

  47. Sean of the South: Homegrown Tomatoes | The Trussville Tribune - June 4, 2022 1:38 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

  48. Jeri+Bishop - June 4, 2022 4:02 pm

    Mike and I are missing you today. The morning just doesn’t seem right without your uplifting clear-eyed contributions to our day. Praying you are okay.

  49. Bonnie V - June 4, 2022 6:37 pm


  50. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - June 5, 2022 3:09 pm


  51. Terry Robbins - June 7, 2022 6:53 pm

    Enjoyed the article immensely! I wrote a song about the same subject called “Bacon, Mayo, and Tomato on White Bread”. Send an email and I will send an mp3!


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