Nothing better than a good tomato

Published 10:00 am Friday, August 14, 2020

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This has been a good summer for tomatoes. On again, off again rains have been a blessing for gardeners who, with excess time, are enjoying a “bumper crop” season. 

With dog days of summer officially having ended last week, the provoking heat remains troublesome and annoying. There are two things in August that ameliorate the depression of lingering heat: flowering crepe myrtles and a bountiful tomato harvest.

Crepe myrtles have never been more radiant and refreshing. Seems that I say that every August. In my backyard, we have one of the tallest crepe myrtles I have ever seen. Its pink blooms are quite becoming although there is more trunk than bush as surrounding trees make it reach for uninterrupted sunlight.

Our neighbor across the street has a red crepe myrtle, nicely shaped with rosy blooms. Red crepe myrtles are the prettiest, white the least compelling. Purple crepe myrtles are okay, not too shabby.

It is worth it to ride around town and enjoy the crepe myrtle scene. You find them everywhere in every neighborhood in the Southeast.

The crepe myrtle originated in India and was introduced to our country about the time of its founding. The crepe myrtle flourished in the Southeast, and one of its most passionate proponents was the French botanist Andre Michaux.

In Highlands, to the north, there is a plaque on Main Street (U.S. Highway 64) noting that Michaux “traversed the Highlands Plateau,” in 1787, arriving in North Carolina to “study flora.”

Michaux created a botanical garden in Charleston where he settled when he came over from France to explore the American plant kingdom.

Every time I see a crepe myrtle bursting forth in all its late summer glory, I offer a toast to the crepe myrtle and Andre Michaux.

Sitting out back on my patio with a tomato sandwich just beyond arms-length of my crepe myrtle makes me realize how wonderful nature is. That August scene is truly august, a lot better than what you would find inside on television.

For many years, our late neighbor Agnew Peacock frequently brought us tomatoes. They were always robust, fire engine red; or UGA red.

That meant that I broke all the dietary dictums, just as I do now when a container of tomatoes finds its way to our door, courtesy of Ron Hanley, who lapses into deep fret when there is too much rain or too little and his tomato patch experiences shortcomings. This is a good year for Ron and consequently a good year for us.

Slice a red, ripe tomato, spread mayonnaise generously on two pieces of white bread, add a generous sprinkling of salt and reach for a diet Coke. Whaddayagot? Summer’s best meal.

I know what the experts say about white bread, mayonnaise and salt, but the aforesaid treat is certainly not lethal. Part of the enjoyment of good food is to feel uplifted by what you eat.

When tomatoes are in season, it is like Herschel Walker on the toss sweep. You just can’t get enough. I have often enjoyed a tomato sandwich for breakfast.

The tomato has a checkered history, however. An internet perusal confirms that the tomato is of South American origin. Makes sense when you learn the Conquistadors likely took the tomato to Europe.

When the British were introduced, it was such an attractive ornamental that it was a staple of flower gardens. They went 200 years missing out on a Royal treat.

The tomato was considered poisonous. Then somebody figured out it was the well-to-do who died from eating tomatoes. They ate off pewter plates. Since the tomato is high acidity, it would leach lead from the plates. Poor people, who ate off wooden plates, never had a problem with tomatoes and mortality.

Today tomatoes are linked to multiple health benefits. They bring about reduced risk of heart disease and cancer; tomatoes are a good source of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, potassium, Vitamin K and folate.

The antioxidant chlorogenic acid from tomatoes can lower blood pressure; tomato products bring about fewer incidences of prostate, lung, breast and stomach cancers. The healthiest part of the tomato is the skin, so don’t peel them.

As we recommend in the South, when the heat is intense, fix a white bread tomato sandwich with ample mayonnaise and salt and try to find the shade of a crepe myrtle to enjoy one of life’s greatest treats.