Summer’s been mild and lovely, but the tomatoes are not thrilled. They’re out there sulking, reddening at a grudging rate while the bacon sits forlornly in the fridge and the pasta sleeps alone. One or two small ones ripen per day, barely enough to decorate a salad, not big enough to cut into slabs and slide into mayonnaise.
Tomatoes want heat. They remember their domestication by Aztec farmers, the tropical, pouring sunlight they were bred for; they have forgotten the cool mountain home of their ancestors in the Andes, where tomatoes still grow wild on tangled vines. Tomatl, said the Aztecs, close enough to understand in Michigan today. What cooler word did the Inca have for them? Give them summer heat and they distill its flavor into red flesh, summer in a thin, flaming skin. Imagine how it burst on the tongue of the first Italian chef bold enough to try it, in the kitchen of a Medici perhaps, when Europe thought it was poisonous. Tomatoes were found to need no antidote. My tomatoes are moping, but they will come through. It’s just going to take a little longer than usual.