Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

It’s one of my enduring childhood memories, a gift from my mom.  I was seven or eight, my mom in her early thirties, late morning, august sun, we stared at the six full tomato plants we grew behind our garage.  I don’t know if she actually spoke but her urgent and determined movements said, “Let’s do this.”

She wrenched two ripe tomatoes from the vine. I followed her to the kitchen. She rinsed both tomatoes briefly under cool water but they stayed hot the sun.  She gave one to me.  She shook salt on the one she held, and it stuck to what water remained.  Something was going on, but I didn’t know what.  Then she bit into the tomato as if it were an apple, closed her eyes once.  She salted the exposed flesh, took another bite.

That was the best tomato I never ate.

I salted mine, chomped into it, salted the exposed flesh, ate again.  I’d never realized.

Such events of course lead inevitably to the fact tomatoes for the rest of your life will be poignant in their inability to live up to all that a tomato can be.  But onward we go, headlong into another season of tomatoes.  And tomatoes.  And tomatoes. You have to keep trying.

Anticipating this yearly situation, the cascade now upon us, Men’s Journal asked me for a few ways to serve a tomato. We had room for 39, but there are a thousand. I’m glad my editor didn’t insist on a round number. Thirty-nine is perfect. If you’re not a kid anymore, and you don’t have a mom to show you that there things in this world you can stare at forever and never know how amazing they are, then the next best tomato you can eat is one on a Saturday morning, just home from the farmers’ market. Slice slice and put it on a plate. Procede to eat a few ears of corn that are well salted and dripping with butter, on that same plate. Then eat the tomato, mopping up butter and salt.  Sweet corn, acidic-sweet tomato, butter.  Breakfast in August.

My 39 Ways to Eat a Tomato: Men’s Journal

A dozen ideas from the indefatigable Bittman.

An excellent tomato book: The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table by Amy Goldman

And more:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.