What are the most perfect foods of summer? Which ones, in the dead of winter, do you long for? And I am not talking about their pale counterparts that you can find in the grocery store in the middle of January. Since I grew up in New Jersey, they have to be tomatoes and corn. You know, New Jersey is the garden state. It must be true, it says so on the license plates. Too many people only think of NJ as the Turnpike, the smelly corridor between Philadelphia and New York City. However, lots of small farmers still grow produce. Lots of people still grow tomatoes in their backyards.

When I was growing up, my father was an electrician and, later, head of a savings and loan. (I’ll write about this someday.) We had a backyard that I thought was enormous when I was a kid but in a visit during my adulthood realize was fairly small. Every spring it was always a fight to see how much of my mother’s gardens would become part of the vegetable patch. Most years my father won a little more space. He grew pole beans which I think were some kind of lima bean. He grew green beans and cucumbers. But his great pride was his tomatoes. He set up 6 foot cages for them and planted the little seedlings in the middle. By the end of the summer, we had a veritable tomato forest. Giant tomato plants brimming with tomatoes. There were more than we could ever eat. We gave them away by the bagful. They were the most delicious tomatoes ever – good acidity and some sugar. While they were growing, my dad paid way more attention to those tomatoes than he did to us. He would come home for lunch everyday either in his overalls or in his suit and commune among the tomatoes. Even lay in the dirt to carefully fertilize them.

The very yummy best dinner we could have was lots of corn on the cob from the local farm stand and fried tomatoes – not green, but fully ripe. The fried tomatoes were a mess to make. Dipped in flour, egg and seasoned breadcrumbs, topped with a little sugar and fried in butter. When I make them now, maybe I use a little parmesan too but I don’t think it was in the original recipe. They are heaven to eat.

Another standard during the tomato season was ham, lettuce and tomato with mayonnaise on a hard roll (this may be known as a Kaiser roll or bulkie to you.) Every Saturday, there was always a trip to the deli to get the ham and rolls.

These days when I feel guilty about eating anything but reduced calorie bread and lite mayo, skinny little pieces of some turkeyish deli meat and never frying anything, I like to think about all the delicious pleasures of those home grown tomatoes.

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