Tomatoes and Memories

First, it was tomatoes—Campri tomatoes to be exact—from the grocery store, sprinkled with course-ground Kosher salt, that brought me back to my days on the farm when I was a little girl.  I would pick one ripe from the vine, sprinkle it with salt we brought with us to the fields, and eat it right there by itself.  Those were sun drenched days when we all had to go to the fields to pick the crops that would help us meet our meager needs.  There were a lot of us, seven children in all, but we lived frugally.  There was the electric bill mostly, and grocery stables like baking powders, sugar, salt, lard, and Daddy’s chewing tobacco.  We raised most of our food, especially vegetables, milked a cow, and butchered a pig ever so often.  We also raised cane for sorghum molasses, strawberries, and corn for cash crops, but we had a variety of garden vegetables for our dinner table.

I disliked going into the fields because we would be there all day, and I would get tired and bored.  Mama would cook over a campfire at noon.  Even the baby went with us, staying on a pallet while some of the younger children watched him.  Everyone had a job.  Mine was usually following Mama and doing what she told me.  In the spring when she was planting tomato slips, I was going before her putting a little dab of fertilizer in the holes and pulling a little dirt over it so the tomato roots would not get burned by the chemical.  In the summer, I would help skim the froth off the pans of cane juice cooking down into molasses.  I remember being sticky all over, even my hair.

I guess all the responsibility I face now has had me yearning for those carefree days of  yesteryear with my family about me.  I find myself eating two or three of those medium-sized Campri tomatoes every day, with the salt.  I think the salt reminds me of the rock salt we used in ice cream making.  I would taste a pinch of it even when my mother told me it wasn’t good to eat salt by itself.

Another taste that has recently taken me back to my school days is chocolate/oatmeal/pecan no bake cookies.  I started having a craving for them, and looked through my cookbooks for the recipe.  Couldn’t find it.  I called my sisters.  No luck.  So I went to the internet, and there the recipe was, just like I remembered from the cafeteria where I worked for my school lunch each day.  Not having sweets at home, I looked forward to the days when the cafeteria would have one cookie per student.  Oh how I loved those cookies, or should I say that cookie.  One day I took an extra cookie and got caught. The supervising cook had made just one each for everyone, so she didn’t get a cookie that day.  The shame has stayed with me all these years; I’m sure she has forgotten all about the little girl that cried from her admonishment.

Taste brings back memories for me.  Turkey and dressing at Thanksgiving amid all the laughter and chaos of family.  Iced tea from the days on the back porch.  Head-cranked ice cream with a towel put over the bucket holding the salt-water brine. And of course, a smaller child sitting on top of the bucket and towel to hold the bucket still when the ice cream started getting stiff.

Why are these memories important?  Our past experiences form who we are, be they good or not so good.  How we react to them builds our character.  We are constantly merging our present experiences with those from our memory bank from the past, thus we continue to develop our character.  One of the ways we do this is from sensory input, such as taste, hearing, smell, and sight.  Instead of trying to change who we are or what happened to us, we can bring it to God, and ask Him to help us find gratitude in the details.  Then we will find rest for our souls.

Well, the holidays are almost over, and I must return to the present.  This taste journey I’ve been experiencing has put several pounds on me.  I’ve made my last batch of no bake cookies before the new year.  A good pot of traditional black-eyed peas and ham on New Years’ Day, and I will be eating salads for a while.  But I like those too.