Homegrown Tomatoes

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.

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 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 country 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 Twenty-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 eating 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.

51 comments

  1. Kelly - June 19, 2019 9:54 am

    Tomato sandwiches…one of my favorite parts of summer.Yum!

    Reply
    • Shirley Coy - June 19, 2019 2:07 pm

      Hello from Rainsville, Alabama ~ I grew up on tomato sandwiches and often went to the garden and got a tomato off the vine, rubbed some dirt off and ate it ~ good memories ! I’m a subscriber and enjoy your articles very much as I’m old enough to be your Mama or possibly you Granny at age 84 (8/23/34). Keep up and carry on ~ like the song says: You light up my life !

      Reply
    • Grace purcell - July 19, 2019 11:21 pm

      My mother would put 2 full sticks of butter in a frying pan. Preferably cast iron. Slicw tomatos as evenly as possiblt dip both sides in flour fry on alternatingvsides until the tomatos are brown and crunchy..of course they were salt and peppered as well. After the had almost melted into tomato gravy, my mother would plant one of us by the pan to stir constantly.no lumps allowed. When the tomato gravy was done you buttered toast and drizzled it over the toast before eating it.

      Reply
  2. Cathi Russell - June 19, 2019 10:14 am

    I’m so with you on the tomato aspic. My mom made it one time and I asked her what that tomato did to her that she’d treat him like that. We never saw it again.

    Reply
  3. Martha Black - June 19, 2019 10:15 am

    Merciful Lord, I haven’t laughed so well in a long time! You have written straight out of my heart in this concern. In fact Im so impressed I’m of a great mind to ask my daughter to read this as my eulugy…..
    God bless you and keep up the good work. I can hardly wait for the next reading.

    https://youtu.be/1-QzLIjL1u4

    Reply
    • Kathy White - July 19, 2019 6:38 pm

      Martha Black, thank you for sharing that link. I watched it. Smiled the entire song. Who knew that there was a song about Homegrown Tomatoes.?

      Reply
  4. Jean - June 19, 2019 10:30 am

    Agreed!!!!!

    Reply
    • Ray Abell - June 19, 2019 10:34 am

      Just picked my first beefsteak last night but the little orange sun sugar are hard to beat.

      Reply
  5. Naomi - June 19, 2019 10:50 am

    For some unknown reason, we never had tomatoes when I was a child. My mother didn’t like vegetables and, evidently, neither did my grandmother. All we ever had was meat (usually steak or chicken) and potatoes and either corn or peas. I remember the first time I tasted a tomato. I was still in elementary school. I was by myself somewhere in Birmingham (I think on 20th Street S.) and I was hungry. I went to a 5 & 10 cent store that had a counter where you could order food. When I looked at the menu, I realized that I only had enough money for a lettuce and tomato sandwich so I thought that I would try it. That’s when I realized how much I liked tomatoes. My husband’s family were farmers and he grew up on a farm so he always had tomatoes. After I married him, I learned how to make fried green tomatoes. We still live on the farm where he grew up but I can’t grow tomatoes. We have a lot of deer and other animals on our property and they eat the plants before I can get a tomato. My husband’s aunt was in a nursing home for many years and we would visit her every Sunday. Every summer, there was a vegetable garden outside the nursing home that had a lot of tomato plants. When we went there, I would get enough tomatoes to last for a week but she died a few years ago so I don’t have anywhere to steal tomatoes from. Store-bought tomatoes are not the same.

    Reply
  6. Keloth Anne - June 19, 2019 11:07 am

    Oh we share the love of home grown tomatoes 🍅♥️🍅
    Finally got some delicious Slocomb tomatoes and oh my what delightful meals I’m enjoying…..tomato sandwiches!!
    Loved this post!!! Thank you

    Reply
  7. GaryD - June 19, 2019 11:25 am

    I can eat a tomato on a hamburger, which I just started that a couple years ago,but if you ask me to eat a tomato by itself you’re gonna have a serious problem. And whoever came up with the idea of frying green tomatoes should be serving time in the State pen !

    Reply
  8. Pat Nichols - June 19, 2019 11:46 am

    Anybody can write about the blessing of homegrown tomatoes, but only the true southerner will include Dukes Mayonnaise and Sunbeam Bread!

    Reply
    • Mariam - June 19, 2019 5:07 pm

      Now that is a “fact Jack”! I had those thoughts in my mind too. So glad you stated it so that I could reply!!!

      Reply
    • Robert Chiles - June 20, 2019 10:05 pm

      MUUUSSSTTT BE DUKES!!!!!!!

      Reply
    • Ron - July 19, 2019 12:34 pm

      Right on, Dukes! It’s the only way to go!

      Reply
  9. MermaidGrammy - June 19, 2019 12:33 pm

    Amen

    Reply
  10. Donna - June 19, 2019 12:34 pm

    Thx for the many laughs!

    Reply
  11. Elizabeth Voss - June 19, 2019 12:43 pm

    Have you ever had a Creole tomato (grown along the Mississippi River in Plaquemines or St. Bernard parish in Louisiana — but available throughout all of south Louisiana this time of year)? There is something about the soil down there that results in definitive proof that God loves us. Oh my, these things are glorious. I am a fan of all home-grown tomatoes, and these are definitely worth you time.
    https://wgno.com/2015/06/10/whats-a-creole-tomato-hows-it-different-how-to-pick-one/

    Reply
  12. Bill - June 19, 2019 12:47 pm

    Sean, this is one of your best. I laughed heartily at your clever humor, and smiled broadly at the very mention of home-grown tomatoes, tomato sandwiches made with the proper ingredients, and the very long yard sale I had almost forgotten. You get my days off with a smile, and I thank you for that gift. Just keep on writing, Sean.

    Reply
  13. Shelton A. - June 19, 2019 12:55 pm

    My Dad grew tomatoes. Better Boys and one other kind I can’t remember (but they were the best!) and tomato sandwiches with Duke’s Mayo, a little salt are some of my childhood’s best memories.

    Reply
  14. Edna B. - June 19, 2019 1:05 pm

    Every year I plant tomatoes, and every year the small critters in my yard feast on whatever manages to grow on my plants. Usually it’s not very much. I don’t know why. So I buy from local folks while they are in season, and when they are out of season I have to go to the super market for my tomatoes. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  15. Mary Pettit - June 19, 2019 1:06 pm

    My mom and I are on the hospitality committee at church and have to make food about every 6 weeks, the whole church is disappointed if Mama doesn’t make her tomato aspic. LOL!! I will say that she doesn’t put little grey shrimp in hers though! When I was a little girl we lived in a house that had window unit air conditioners. The front of the house was at ground level but the lot sloped back so the back of the house was up on stilts and stood about 10 feet off the ground. One of the AC units was in the kitchen and it dripped non-stop. My dad always planted tomatoes under it and let me tell you what, those were the best tomatoes ever!!

    Reply
  16. Phillip Saunders.left over from a hog-killing - June 19, 2019 1:12 pm

    Deeply inspired, I’m going to plant tomatoes today. No self-respecting southerner should have a garden without tomatoes – it just ain’t right. None of that bucket gimmick, though.
    BTW, you are spot-on about the tomato aspic. My stepmother, a great American, loved the gag-producing stuff. If she saw it on a menu, she would immediately start drooling and happily order it. Teenage me would look to see if there was a barf bowl on the menu. Tomato aspic reminded me of a huge blood clot left behind from a hog-killing. But, since some of your wonderful reader ladies probably love it, I will defend to the death their right to do so. Please don’t hate Sean and me, ladies, but pray for our repentance and salvation. Until then I will take my tomatoes green, battered, and fried.

    Reply
  17. Susan - June 19, 2019 1:14 pm

    My father always grew tomatoes (required in NJ) and I grow them now in my yard even though I go to the farmers’ market every week. My father passed a few years ago and almost 91. On the back of the card we gave everyone was a diagram of how to break off the useless “suckers” to get a stronger plant and bigger tomatoes. And we always plant a tomato plant at his grave.

    Reply
  18. Sondra - June 19, 2019 1:17 pm

    Thanks for a great laugh this morning. Yes, homegrown tomatoes are the best part of summer.

    Reply
  19. Barbara Pope - June 19, 2019 1:21 pm

    Our friend Greg used to occasionally leave a bag of tomatoes on our door knob. What a wonderful surprise–to this day he is one of our favorite people.

    Reply
  20. Jody - June 19, 2019 1:23 pm

    Good morning world ❤️ Love tomato sandwiches. Can’t think of a better way to get the day started than the smiles this article from Sean has given us. Thanks ❤️

    Reply
  21. Fred Butterfield - June 19, 2019 1:47 pm

    Being a proper Yankee (raised on the South Shore of Boston), I was unfamiliar with tomato aspic. And now I know.

    http://amp.southernliving.com/veggies/tomatoes/tomato-aspic

    Thanks! 🙂

    Fred

    Reply
  22. Ala Red Clay Girl - June 19, 2019 1:47 pm

    I’ve never tried tomato aspic and after reading your column I don’t think I’ll ever will. Why ruin a perfect tomato? I love tomato sandwiches and your column!

    Reply
  23. Glenn - June 19, 2019 2:04 pm

    The highlight of the meal at my grandparents house was a large plate of yellow and red home grown tomatoes, each four inches wide and cut half an inch thick. I used to go to their garden with a salt shaker and sit there eating them off the vines. Simply can’t find tomatoes like those any grocery store. Sadly my kids never liked tomatoes, to this day I worry about their future.

    Reply
  24. Anne Parrish - June 19, 2019 2:40 pm

    Your ode to the homegrown tomato was pure truth , Sean. Not much is dearer to the heart of a Southerner than the first tomato of the summer which is a most anticipated event. That tomato has been watched over and prayed over to defend it from the dreaded hornworm, hail, and early blight.
    It’s picked and placed on the kitchen counter to be further admired and photographed for Facebook. When it’s finally sliced and made into a proper southern tomato sandwich and the juice begins to trickle down your arms and drip from your elbows, you know that LIFE IS GOOD!

    Reply
  25. Bobbie - June 19, 2019 2:51 pm

    Another reason to smile this morning. Thanks again Sean. Love it and love tomatoes too!

    Reply
  26. Angie M - June 19, 2019 3:09 pm

    You taught me something new today. I didn’t even know what “tomato aspic” was so I had to google it. It’s a crazy recipe mess of tomatoes and gelatin and just looks insane. I am a HUGE fan of all things tomato, but that sounds like it would be atrocious. Just give me a salt shaker and fresh tomatoes and I’m a happy girl. I’ll eat them straight off the vine, just like an apple, or on a sandwich with lots of mayo… it is just heavenly. I feel so bad for people who don’t know and love the taste of fresh tomatoes. Their taste buds apparently don’t work right. 😉 Thanks for the smile and the good laugh this morning. Your words and thoughts are always a great read!

    Reply
  27. Ken Dunn - June 19, 2019 3:22 pm

    From the way you wrote about tomatoes we must be twin brothers of different mothers. I hope ever who left you a sack full of tomatoes made sure they were Slocomb tomatoes- the best in the world. You’re right about how to do a tomato sandwich- Sunbeam white bread, Duke’s mayo, a slice of Slocomb tomato about the size of your hand, salt, pepper, chase it with a RC Cola, and for dessert a double decker moon pie. By the way don’t forget the Slocomb Tomato Festival is this weekend. Time to visit then drop by the Fadette Convenience store and get 2 chili dogs and a BBQ sandwich. I never had tomato chutney and it sounds like tomato aspic is kin to store bought pimento cheese- YUCK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  28. Linda Moon - June 19, 2019 3:40 pm

    Some Baptists and former Baptists I know listen to, and even dance, to secular music. I am one. I do believe that colon procedures may be related to that as-pic….you think? And, I’m very glad your cat has survived Thanksgivings. I’ll pass that along to my two kitties, just to reassure them. Gotta go….I’m about to get me a brown paper sack of homegrown tomatoes. One more thing before I go: Yes – I, along with said tomatoes, am living proof that God loves us even when we dance!

    Reply
    • Martha Black - June 19, 2019 8:48 pm

      I was raised Pentecostal and it always amazed me how people could shout, as good as they did , would be against dancing. Then I ran across the scripture about David dancing with all his might and neked, at that! I knew right then this thing about dancing being sinful was nothing but a lie of the devil straight out the pit. Besides my daddy & mamma was great “danchers” as he pronounced it with tongue in cheek and a wink. They kept it at home & to themselves so as not to offend their flock but somehow seeing theur faces when they danched I felt like God woulda been fine with it. In fact, I go so far as to say he’s probably offended when we hide the joy it brings out. I say, Joy to the World, Let’s danch (but keep your (clothes on in public) lol!

      Reply
      • Martha Black - June 19, 2019 9:40 pm

        Well, I was mistaken, David wasnt neked, he did have his “Ephod” but his wife was certainly put out with it and accused him of exposing himself. Oh well, Let’s dance anyway!

        Reply
  29. Pat - June 19, 2019 3:47 pm

    “Home grown tomaters, home grown tomaters, what would life be without home grown tomaters”……………..

    Reply
  30. Patricia Harris - June 19, 2019 3:53 pm

    I agree. Home grown tomatoes are the bomb. I cherish them like the best haircut I ever got. You know us females only get one good haircut in our lives. Once that’s done there is never another that good. I still remember homegrown tomatoes served to us camp counselors by another counselor’s mom after a 20 mile canoe trip. The best thing I ever ate in my whole life! Keep writing! You are great👏😁

    Reply
  31. Tim House - June 19, 2019 3:55 pm

    I laughed a lot on this. It is SO true of the South… And now, I’ve got to go searching for some good tomatoes, as I’ve got a big hankering for a sloppy old tomato sandwich! Yummm…

    Reply
  32. Janet Mary Lee - June 19, 2019 4:43 pm

    My daughter and I love to try recipes. We love veggies, so she invited me for tomato aspic once..(no shrimp!!). Let me tell you, that stuff hit the garbage so fast it would make your head spin!! I can live without being related to the Vanderbilts….but living without those exact tomato sandwiches you describe…not so much!! A real tomato is God’s gift!!

    Reply
  33. Susie, as well - June 19, 2019 5:43 pm

    I hope you know how much your daily column means to all of us. Some days you make me laugh so hard, some days I cry, some days, like today, I do both. Kind of like a chat with a good, old friend. “All the flies pitched in to get the screen door fixed” oh my gosh, PRICELESS. Lastly, anybody that doesn’t like fried green tomatoes just hasn’t had them fixed right!

    Reply
  34. Sam rietta - June 19, 2019 5:45 pm

    Best gift I ever gave my father-in-law was a pick-up truck load of cow manure for his garden!.

    Reply
  35. Linda Chipman - June 19, 2019 8:59 pm

    I almost think you have to be a true Southerner to realize just how good a home grown tomato is. And yes white bread and Duke’s mayo are the only way to make a tomato sandwich. Great article!

    Reply
  36. BE - June 19, 2019 10:27 pm

    I just googled tomato aspic… it’s basically a tomato juice gelatin mold… poor thing- bless your heart.

    Reply
  37. Gina Murphy - June 20, 2019 4:38 pm

    I like tomato aspic ! (minus the shrimp) My grandmother’s tomato aspic was made with Bloody Mary mix and I do love a good Bloody Mary. I love tomatoes !!!

    Reply
  38. Robert Chiles - June 20, 2019 10:21 pm

    A fellow in a Chinese restaurant thought his food was a little “off” so he told the waiter, “I think this is cat meat.” The waiter said, “Oh no.”
    So the fellow said, “I want to talk to your manager.” The manager came and the fellow told the manager, “I think this is cat meat.” The manager said, “Oh, no.”
    So the fellow said, “I want to talk to the chef.” The chef came over, and the fellow told the chef, “I think this is cat meat.”
    And the chef replied, “Oh, thank you very much, but cat meat is way too expensive.”

    Reply
  39. Estelle - June 21, 2019 9:46 am

    Where we lived in west Tennessee there was no Sunbeam bread or Dukes mayonnaise. But we ate our tomatoes on Colonial bread with Blue Plate mayonnaise. Often over the kitchen sink to catch the tomato juice running down my arms. Tomatoes grown in southern soil are the very best‼️

    Reply
  40. Debbie - July 19, 2019 8:47 am

    I would rate this one 🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅. Like I said, I would but, I have a brown bag full of ’em, a loaf of Sunbeam bread and Dukes mayo waiting to become that sacred summer sandwich of which you so eloquently spoke.

    Reply
  41. Janet Fordham - July 19, 2019 1:20 pm

    Never had Dukes mayo; we have always used Blue Plate. We love tomato sandwiches and try to grow tomatoes every year, but, alas, we can only manage to get 2-3 tomatoes and that’s it, but those tomato sandwiches are savored!

    Reply
  42. Susan - July 20, 2019 1:57 pm

    My Daddy always said, “There’s nothing better than true love and homegrown tomatoes.”

    Reply

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