I am driving up the street towards my parents' house when I spy a familiar figure up ahead. It is my boss, K., and from the bounce in her step I can tell that she is pleased about something. (Funny how you can recognize the people you love or know well - not always the same thing - from a distance, just by the way they move or even by the way they stand). I wonder about the backpack she has slung over her shoulders and the crate she holds in her hands, but I am not long in the dark. It is Wednesday, the day of the Columbia City farmer's market, and she has made a magnificent haul of heirloom tomatoes.
My coworker S., she of the organic garden and the gigantic infant-sized zucchini, has valiantly tried to keep K. supplied with home-grown tomatoes, but she is insatiable, a veritable Tomato Monster, and descends on the farmer's market every week in search of more. Look! I got the BIGGEST tomatoes! I run over to see, and cannot help but let out a shriek. HOLY SHIT! I say. Loudly. My curse echoes up and down the street. The couple out walking their dogs give me a funny look as they walk by. Here, she says, take the biggest one. It is huge. Streaked with orange, it looks rather like a small pumpkin, and K. must have bought at least a dozen of these behemoths. It weighs at LEAST a pound, she says. I take it inside, go into the kitchen to say hello to my grandfather. What is THAT!?, he asks, raising an eyebrow. A tomato, I say. The other eyebrow shoots up as he takes a long drag from his skinny little cigarette, the kind that are about the length and circumference of cocktail straws.
Fall is nearly here, and the tomato season is drawing to a close. I think summer when I think tomatoes; I think of Italy and of July days in the Tuscan countryside, where tomatoes taste how tomatoes should taste, firm and ripe and sweeter than anything you could imagine. I think of Laurie Colwin, who wrote that a "world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins," unimaginable. She wrote about how her daughter had a book about a dog who spent all winter dreaming about the place in the country where he got to spend his summers, dreaming about where he had hidden his bone, and how she spent her winters dreaming about which bowl she would make her first summer tomato salad in and how she will be remorseless in buying the last two bags of tomatoes at the organic farm stand. And when winter comes I know I will dream about eating grape tomatoes like candy, about the dripping chunks of heirloom tomatoes that K. has tossed in her most expensive bottle of balsamic vinegar, the kind that coats your tongue like syrup and tastes like summer midnights under the stars, dark and intense and sweet, about insalata caprese made with fresh creamy sweet mozzarella layered with tomatoes and bright green basil leaves all drizzled with olive oil like liquid gold.
But winter is months away, and I have the tomato to end all tomatoes waiting for me, huge and orange like a ball of fire. I will slice it and sprinkle it with giant flakes of Maldon salt and anoint it with drops of balsamic vinegar - a present from K., naturally - and it will be like the last days of summer concentrated on my plate. Tomorrow.