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History doesn’t change with fashion

Kesley Colbert Contributing Writer

Miss Alice Ward gave my first wife a bag of garden fresh vine ripe tomatoes. I ate a tomato sandwich just as fast as Cathy could get one out of the sack. And thought about my Dad…..

He was a meat and potatoes guy. He wanted bacon and eggs for breakfast and roast beef, chicken and lots of vegetables the rest of the day. He didn’t eat sandwiches. As little kids we marveled that he wasn’t even fond of hamburgers.

But a perfectly ripe tomato sandwich was the exception. I can see Dad right now sitting in his “place” at that red-topped Formica kitchen table. He would swab a boatload of Miracle Whip salad dressing on two pieces of Colonial Bread, pile three or four slices of tomatoes in between and eat….for a while!

I silently thanked Miss Alice for the memory.

Leon wouldn’t even wait for the tomatoes to make it to the table. He’d mosey around the garden till he found the best tomato we had. He’d twist it off and eat it right there. That first bite sent juice flying everywhere!

It didn’t bother Leon. He’d pull a miniature round shaker—we’d call it “travel size” today—of Morton Salt out of his pocket and pour it liberally over where his next bite was going. He’d then move on to the second best tomato in the field….. It sometimes took Leon thirty minutes to gather three tomatoes for supper.

Another great memory!

Of course, you had to be careful making this memory. In between bites Leon would sometimes snatch a “puny” or “blemished” tomato off a vine and throw it at your head! I’m telling you, it was hard to hide behind a cucumber.

I’d pull up a radish and throw it in his direction. He was five years older. I didn’t have a chance and quickly retreated back past the woodpile.

I can still hear his laughter……as he salted down a spot for his next bite.

We are talking those Big Red Heirloom tomatoes here. Mom didn’t like those smaller varieties. And she didn’t like the plum colored or yellow tomatoes.

And green tomatoes weren’t even on her radar.

Listen, we were poor in material things; there was no denying that. Money was scarce out towards our end of Stonewall Street. We did without some days. We “made do” with what we had. I have recounted a few of the hardships in this very column.

But read my lips here, we were never one time so hard up that we had to resort to eating fried green tomatoes!

And honestly, I don’t remember even seeing those things when I was growing up. I practically lived with Bobby Brewer back in our grammar school days so I could watch him operate on birds in that little shed behind his garage. I ate more meals there some summers than at my own house. Miss Hazel never one time pushed any green tomatoes off on us.

It was the same at our big family Fourth of July meals. There was always twenty-five or thirty of us. We ate in shifts. Granny had ever food group on that long table that you could imagine or had ever tasted. Green tomatoes were never to be found there.

They were not, contrary to modern belief, some kind of southern delicacy; at least not in the South I grew up in. And I don’t care how many books they write about the “good ole days” saying otherwise. Or how many movies Hollywood turns out praising the virtues of an overcooked, egg and flour soaked, greasy green tomato.

Cathy and I stopped once at an authentic “throwback” Country Kitchen in fashionable Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Naturally, fried green tomatoes were prominently displayed in the appetizer section.

“Ma’am,” I asked the exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable waitress, “Are these green tomatoes just regular red tomatoes that haven’t ripened yet, or are they some particular variety of tomato that remain green through maturity?”

Turns out she knew just about as much about tomatoes as those Hollywood experts.

I’m telling you a flat-out gastronomical fact; it was a fried green tomato that invented cholesterol!

Leon, as usual, got the last word on the matter. He said if they didn’t serve it at the City Café, it wasn’t worth eating. And the City Café’s menu back in our day covered about everything you could think of from a fried baloney sandwich to a plate of pickled pig’s feet…..but no green tomatoes, fried or otherwise.

I rest my case.