The Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg is not the only conflict for which the Keystone State is widely noted. There’s also Revolutionary War clashes and other skirmishes, including those infamous battles of tomatoes.
I mention this because a neighbor named, Jim, gave us a handful of red ripened fruit from his garden. It reminded me that of all summer’s pleasures, the best is having garden fresh vegetables available, and over-ripened, squishy tomatoes for battles.
I love tomatoes, and calling it a tomato, tamoohto or tamahto makes no difference. The clean, unmistakable, taste of this coveted summer delicacy, if left on its vine to ripen, is unequaled.
During the peak of the season we’d pick this delicious crop for local farmers who sold them to canning factories. Those farmers paid us 10 cents for each 5/8 bushel basket. Picking 30 baskets a day earned us $3.
When you think of it, that was a handsome sum for a twelve year old kid in the early 1950s. After all, eggs were just 20 cents a dozen, milk, 15 cents a quart and bread, 10 cents a loaf. With a dime you could buy a bottle of coke for a nickel, a Klein’s chocolate Lunch Bar for three cents and still have two cents left over for a couple of Mary Jane peanut butter taffies.
When it came to picking tomatoes, however, we boys were no angels; especially with the great temptations that always seemed to exist. With few "lieutenants" on the tomato field watching us, we struggled to keep our minds and hands on picking. That risk always remained high for fights - tomato fights; particularly if there was an abundance of overly ripened fruit.
We’d stockpile the most rotten tomatoes and when someone least suspected, hurl them their way. If we were lucky, our erratic aims would score a bull’s eye, right smack dab in the back of our target’s head. And our favorite targets were girls; especially if they were our sisters.
Pretending as if they were critically injured, they’d scream, wipe the mess off their heads and vow to tell Mom and Dad. That, and tomato retaliation, scared us. We’d scurry into the nearby woods for cover until they calmed down. By the time we returned and went back to picking, they’d laugh and all was mostly forgotten - and we hoped, forgiven - that is, unless they sought revenge with a barrage of their own rotten tomatoes.
Regardless of it being ammo, not much beats a summer lunch of homemade tomato soup along with a BLT. And very little beats a summer dinner topped with sliced, cold, vine ripened tomatoes.
On the other hand, nothing, abso-tutely-lutely nothing beats any summer meal of fried ripened tomatoes. Dipped in milk and flour, and then fried to a golden brown, they were a slice of Heaven; especially when served with mashed potatoes and tomato gravy.
I know, I know! Most folks fry green tomatoes. Mom may have tried it once or so, but no one seemed to have cared for them. Dad always preferred them fried ripe. And so we took our cue from Dad and developed tastes of our own for Mom’s delicious red ripened fried tomatoes.
One year she made mashed potatoes, and with them, tomato gravy. It was love at first taste. We never seemed to get enough. With the drippings of the fried tomatoes, Mom would add a big, very ripe one, crush it, add milk and flour, salt and pepper, and presto, another one of her tasty dishes.
Back in the Pennsylvania Dutch country you can still find Mom and Pop restaurants off the beaten path that serve fried red tomatoes and tomato gravy. That’s next to impossible, here. But now that the tomato season’s upon us, try frying a few red ripened, but firm, tomatoes,yourself. I know I will.
With each bite I’m sure you’ll agree, they really are a slice of Heaven.
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