I hated tomatoes until I was 16. To
me, tomatoes were more a color
than a taste. It seems strange now
since I love ripe red tomatoes so
thoroughly each summer, but I
pushed pieces of tomato to the other
side of the plate for the first part of
I think I know why. When I was
growing up in Southern California,
we only ate one kind of tomato: a
standard medium-width, pale-in-the-middle, grocery store tomato
that was available year-round.
I didn’t like tomatoes because they
didn’t taste like anything. They were
soft to the touch and mealy in the
mouth. They lay there in my wooden
salad bowl, along with iceberg
lettuce, a handful of croutons and
bottled Thousand Island dressing.
I never saw a Green Zebra tomato
with its pale and dark green stripes,
or a fat Red Brandywine that squats
so wide it looks like it has shoulders,
or Mama Leone tomatoes that
are full and red and shaped like a
The year I turned 16, my family
and I lived in England for a year.
One hot summer day, we sat in a
restaurant tucked alongside an old
waterwheel mill. A plate arrived
with brown bread, crumbly cheese,
pickled things and fat slices of
tomatoes. The bread was dense and
lovely. The cheese was slightly salty.
I’ve always loved pickles. And there
sat the tomatoes, waiting.
I took a small bite. My eyes
popped open. These were good.
These tomatoes had firm skins,
pliable flesh and a singing-out
flavor that tasted as good as the
warm sun outside felt on my skin.
That’s where I learned to like
tomatoes: in the countryside, in
summer, when they were ripe.