By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
Until he got on the subject of tomatoes, I was uninterested in the details the Mena resident was relentlessly telling me about his latest romantic involvement. “The woman isn’t so old or overweight that she ain’t attractive,” according to the knowledgeable source, “but she’s just divorced husband number three. I ain’t gonna fool up with her. But she says tomatoes are the ‘forbidden fruit’ of the Bible. She calls ‘em ‘love apples.’ Have you ever heard that?”
Yes, I have heard some South American cultures consider tomatoes to be the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; no, I had never heard them called “love apples,” but I have heard them called “pommes d’amour,” which I assume is the French translation.
Regarding the woman, I do not know her from Eve; but the phrase did conjure situations and imagery akin to pomegranates in the Biblical Song of Solomon.
The bachelor continued: “She’s got tomato plants started in her living room, and she planted some outdoors just in time for the cold spell. You know how it is. These winter-time heatwaves makes everybody jump the gun. I warned her it’s probably not a good idea to plant ‘em outside before April.
But she’s kinda’ caught up in that ‘love apple’ aspect. But like I say, I don’t think I’m going to fool with her. But she plants tomatoes because, she says, they’re afro-democrats.”
“Afro-demo—do you mean ‘aphrodisiacs’?”
A duller shade of dim settled on the man’s face. “Well, I don’t know. The word sounded like that. But she was tellin’ me all this over dinner at her place, and she had tomato salad, fried green tomatoes, pasta with tomato spaghetti sauce, and cheese and bread, but the woman doesn’t eat meat. I was game to try it. I never ate so many tomatoes at one time in my life! I enjoyed the evening, but it would have been better if she’d of made hamburgers or chicken or something.”
And this is enough of the conversation for our purposes, for I want to get back to tomatoes.
A web search informed me tomatoes had their beginnings in South America around what is now Ecuador and Peru. The “forbidden fruit” reputation doubtless resulted from the influx of Spanish missionaries, but the thought would have been unknown to the Old Testament writers, for there were no tomato plants in the Middle East.
There, various traditions have identified the suspect fruit as being grapes, figs, wheat, pomegranates, quince, but truthfully, the actual fruit is unknown. There is Holy wisdom in this, of course. If we knew what it was, human nature would legalize it in all 50 states, grow it in every yard, it would be farmed and harvested, sold commercially, and all this for no other reason than that it is forbidden.
It’s best that its identity is kept secret till we can get it at the farmers’ markets in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The tomato was taken to Europe and enjoyed a modest career as an ornamental plant for a while. It was regarded as poisonous, but it finally occurred to somebody to try one the fruits to see. That was the moment the humble vegetable began its rise to celebrity status. If there are gardeners alive who have never planted tomatoes, I have not met them.
And one may wonder, why bother planting when tomatoes are so cheap in the proper season? Quite simply, few things are as tasty as a vine-ripened, immorally juicy tomato, especially on a BLT. And green tomatoes for frying, with just a blush of yellow, are all but impossible to find for sell, most places. Green tomatoes for frying are why I plant the things.
Why you might plant them is your business, but this “love apple” thing is ridiculous. Still, it doesn’t hurt to add extra ketchup to your fries, or extra sauce on your pasta.
Tomato planting season is getting nearer every day. Meanwhile, patience, patience, patience! Do not let these false starts trick you. We’re still a few weeks away.
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