Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Adios Tomatoes, and other thoughts on liminal culinary spaces

"The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."

- Vladimir Nabokov, Speak Memory

"no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness."

- Pablo Neruda, "Oda al Tomate"

In my last post I said goodbye to peaches, or at least to fresh ones. Now I bid farewell to the tomato, that gentle engorged Peruvian berry.

It's cold out. I wore mittens to walk the dog this morning. My dog, who is from Puerto Rico and who loves the snow but not the cold, wore a little green jacket that makes him look like Peter Pan. (I never thought I'd be the kind of person to put clothes on a dog, but I never thought about a dog needing clothes.) This kind of weather tells me that I probably won't have another fresh tomato -- or rather another real tomato -- until next summer.

But the weather has nothing to do with it: each tomato could be your last. Doesn't that make them taste better?

Here we are, a link on the chain between our ancestors and our descendants, eating tomatoes in a cradle in a brief crack of light. Fall, the cloudy, muddy tunnel between summer and winter, is the season for such reflections on the space between, and many cultures take this opportunity to do so. On Halloween the veil between the spirit world and this one is at its thinnest. On Simcha Torah the end and the beginning of the torah are read back to back. On Thanksgiving, to remind us of our mortality, we scorch the marshmallows that top our sweet potatoes

Summer and winter, those are seasons! They are clear cut: summer, hot, winter, cold. You know what to do. But Fall and Spring are transitions. Nature bats us about with freezing rain one day and glorious sunshine the next. The gloves come off, and then it gets raw out and we put them back on. These seasons are liminal spaces, full of liminal foods.

One of my fondest memories in my career as a food journalist is walking around Boston farmers markets with Jean-George Vongerichten for my story in the Globe. It was right around this time of year. Jean-Georges remarked on the liminal quality of the produce, that this is the time when tomatoes sit next to apples and peaches rub shoulders with squash. He planned his menu accordingly.

I ate my last tomato, a sweet emerald beauty from a local farm, with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of truffle salt that has lost its truffleness, so really it was just salt, which is still an incredible substance. I ate it with slices of butternut squash, walnut, leek and cumin flatbread.

Adios, tomatoes.

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