My childhood was marked by a revulsion for raw tomatoes. Long after I’d outgrown my suspicion of pickles and come to appreciate paté, tomato goo rendered a sandwich all but inedible to me, even after the tomatoes had been taken off. If there were no other options and I was very hungry, I’d eat it wincingly.
It’s impossible to say when my feelings for tomatoes kicked into reverse. But as in any tumultuous relationship, one recalls certain watershed moments along the way. One night, driving in a full car, someone in the back seat handed me what I thought was a grape. I popped it in my mouth and discovered too late that it was a cherry tomato. I drank a lot of water and spat out the window, but that might have been the moment I discovered that eating a tomato was a thing that I could do, even if it wasn’t pleasant.
Flash forward eight years. Sitting next to me as I type is a tote bag containing a few of my garden’s heirloom tomatoes, along with bread for toasting and a Tupperware of pesto – a favorite lunch. I have become an ardent lover of what we call our “other red meat.”
As our tomatoes started succumbing to blight, the fruit becoming less abundant, I felt something growing in me, some urge to express my newfound passion via a culinary feat. I started perusing recipes online. I can’t remember now if it was my idea or the internet’s, but I became determined to make tomato jam, and in case that wasn’t haute enough, I’d do it using honey instead of sugar. I picked a small mountain of yellow cherry tomatoes (I was aiming for an amber-hued jam that would catch the light just so) and plucked off each little cap. I bought those cute little four-ounce jars that so ingenuously turn a stingy helping of jam into an adorable holiday gift.
All I needed now was a free moment. But night after night, by the time the baby got to sleep it was late to start cooking. The fresh ginger I’d procured wasn’t getting any younger. The blight hadn’t found the cherry tomatoes yet, but it was only a matter of time. One weeknight, the window of opportunity opened. I had multiple pots on the stove and an array of jars in the oven, sterilizing. One day I’d look back, perhaps when I had a side company making unusual small batch jams, and remember this as the night that I came into my own.
Midnight was long gone by the time I slurped a taste. There was no trace of the ginger, lemon, onion, parsley, garlic or coriander. Just tomato-flavored honey. Tomatoes and honey, while both delicious, are not so good together. Or maybe I was just being hard on myself? I offered the spatula to husband Joe. “Tastes like honey,” he said noncommittally. Silence followed.
It had to be asked. “Do you like it?”
“No,” he said.
My temperature skyrocketed. How about: I love that you’re trying adventurous recipes? Or even: It could be good as a cheese spread?
I was way too mad to admit that, while his delicacy left plenty to be desired, Joe was right. I’d wasted two pounds of tomatoes and hours of time that could have been spent sleeping, and the kitchen was a wreck. All I wanted to do was go to bed, but I had to finish what I started. I spoke not a word as I poured my sad jam into those cute little four-ounce jars. I tossed the finishing touches – vinegar and brown sugar – into the pot of ketchup, stirred and tasted.
Even through the miasma of my grumpy mood, I detected a lively bite that reminded me of a Bloody Mary at a particular brunch spot in the East Village where we used to go on hungover Sundays.
“Quality control,” said Joe, plopping two veggie burgers onto toast and dousing them with my ketchup. We chewed. I refused to look at him. We chewed some more. I peeked across the table. He nodded. I nodded. Maybe it didn’t bear the imprimatur of raw culinary genius, but it was good ketchup.
Becca Tucker, a one-time Manhattanite now living in upstate New York, writes about gardening and the rural life.
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