Garrison Keillor likes to think that a siege of sub-zero cold, come winter, is made somehow tolerable in the Upper Midwest as long as you think on the glories of sweet corn. He's got a point, although this year--and I'm not sure why--we didn't overindulge as we normally do. Maybe we're just getting old.
I'm being wholesale with the editorial we. My wife, who was born and reared out here on all this rich soil, doesn't lust after Corn Country Gold like I do. When I was kid in Wisconsin--when the sweet corn wasn't nearly as sweet as it is today (candy corn is vastly more candy than corn)--all we had for a meal was corn-on-the-cob, and everyone was thrilled. These days I need a sandwich too, but not much of one, maybe a dinner roll with hard salami; but I can eat far more sweet corn than I should.
But the other item of pure holiness, come August, is tomatoes. I never was an real aficionado, but there's nothing dog days about late summer if we're having bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. One of my ex-students, from the Caribbean, claims that I've never tasted a real banana. I believe her. People who don't grow tomatoes have never tasted a real tomato either. These are the glory days of fat red sinful excess.
I've got a friend who's a fiend. He says once tomatoes come ripe, he eats them for every meal in embarrassing quantities, day after day after day until his exit door gets so sore he simply can't go on without excruciating pain. Once it heals, he says, he goes right back at it. That's extreme.
But I've grown to love them with just about everything on the table, and it's their time right now. My son-in-law put up a little garden in his bright and sunny backyard, stuck in some good plants that turned bountifully into a jungle of delight, a veritable treasure island back there beside the kids' swingset. We've been eating tomatoes--big and small--ever since and can't get enough of them.
This morning at five I got up and took this plate of 'em out of the oven. My wife, ever-so meticulously, slices the cherry tomatoes (they ought to call them "tomato cherries" they're so sweet) in half, baptizes them in some tasty herbal ointment, and sticks 'em in the oven for six hours. You read that right--six hours. I just now took 'em out.
They're fabulous. I honestly can't say more. Anybody who thinks Midwestern food is bland hasn't popped one of these or picked a couple off a thick mound of sweet mozzarella aboard a homemade pizza.
I can't fault Keillor--sweet corn in a marvelous blessing. But with the sharp smell of these little guys still in the air, this morning's thanks is a piece of cake--tomatoes. They're a real gift.