One Decent Tomato by Rebecca Reynolds

Our first guest post was received from long-time friend Rebecca Reynolds, a Kentucky girl now living in Michigan. The post below was first featured in Michigan Blue Magazine.

As spring gardening approaches, my thoughts turn to you, Barbara Kingsolver. No, you don’t know me, but I have a bone to pick. You’ve set the bar too high. Not only did you and your family grow all your own food, but you also documented the entire year in your bestselling memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, complete with agricultural and environmental tips. Did I mention recipes included?

Except for olive oil and grains, if you didn’t grow it, can it, freeze it, dry it, raise it, or buy it locally, you didn’t eat it. Then, in your spare time, you and your husband bred and “harvested” Bourbon Red turkeys. Your college-age daughter tested all the recipes. Heck, even your grade-schooler raised chickens and sold eggs. Puh-leeze.

Oh, sure, I’m jealous of your successful year of sustainable living. But that’s not what annoys me. It’s your tomatoes. See, while you had a tomato crop approaching 400 pounds, I’ve spent a decade trying to grow one decent tomato. One. Decent. Tomato.

When Jim and I moved up north from tomato-growing heaven in Kentucky, we settled a mile and a half north of the 45th Parallel, on shady Main Street. Two words should immediately alert any serious tomato gardener: north and shady. See, tomatoes originally came from hot, sunny Mexico and Central America. And that’s exactly what they like: heat and sun.

My first few springs I started my plants from seeds. But in only filtered house light, these poor leggy seedlings listed pitifully toward the illusion of sun. I took to moving them from room to room, but to no avail. When I planted 6-packs from the garden center, I was again thwarted. My plants grew fine, but with only three hours of sun per day, nary a fruit ripened. And not even I can eat that many fried green tomatoes.

Next year found me with one perfect tomato plant in a wagon. So began the great Tomato Tour: two hours of a.m. sun in the front yard, three hours on the side, and a half hour of western sun in our backyard. Jim and I dutifully pulled the wagon back and forth. That is when we were home…when we remembered. It didn’t work. Finally I took to inviting southern friends up to visit. Y’all come. And, please, bring tomatoes.

So, whereas you, Barbara Kingsolver, had so many tomatoes you were literally seeing red, I’ve yet to see pale orange. But this spring’s different. Gal pal Susan has an organic garden on a sunny hill two miles south of the 45th Parallel, and Jim and I are joining her in working it. Yes, indeed, come September, I, too, will be canning and drying just like you, Barbara Kingsolver. Because, we both know, it’s just like Guy Clark sang: “Only two things that money can’t buy…true love & homegrown tomatoes.”

Recipe: Pull one decent tomato off the vine, rinse under tap water, roll up sleeves, and enjoy! Salt and pepper optional.

To learn more about Rebecca Reynolds, visit her website

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