Tomatoes of My Youth

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By Stephanie Stamm

My parents grew the best tomatoes in the world. We didn’t know what kind they were. My uncle had gotten the seeds somewhere, and he passed some on to my parents, who continued to save seeds from year to year. We called them “Stamm Tomatoes,” because no one else around had tomatoes like them. They could have been German Johnsons or German Queens. Like those heirloom varieties, they were knobby, meaty, juicy, and a pink-red.

GermanQueen

German Queen

When tomatoes were in season, we had fresh sliced tomatoes with every meal. One of my family’s favorite breakfasts (or breakfasts for dinner) was biscuits, tomatoes, and gravy. Not being much of a gravy fan, I opted for just tomatoes and biscuits.

We always had a huge garden. So, in addition to eating fresh tomatoes and giving tomatoes away, we spent days canning tomatoes. My mother would peel, core, and quarter the tomatoes, stuff the quarters into jars with some salt, and then process them in boiling water. I learned that the raw tomatoes had to be packed tightly in the jars. They shrink during processing, so loose packing meant jars of tomatoes floating in liquid, instead of jars with near-uniform, red gems snugged closely together from bottom to neck. I don’t recall my mother ever entering her canned tomatoes in the county fair competition, but if she had, she could have won some ribbons.

When I was a child, my favorite part of tomato canning was making tomato juice. The less perfect tomatoes were cut into chunks, peels and all, and dropped into five gallon buckets. When a bucket was half to three-quarters full, I got to dive in. Well, not all of me; just my arms. What could be better as a child than not only being allowed but encouraged to make a squishy mess? Of course, it had to stay in the bucket, but still…. This wasn’t work; it was play. I squeezed fistfuls of tomatoes until I was above my elbows in juice and pulp. My arms got a little itchy, but it was worth it. My mom then cooked the squashed tomatoes, pressed the hot pulp through a sieve to remove the peels, poured the juice into jars, and processed them.

During the non-tomato seasons, we could always go to the cellar to find bright jars of tomatoes and juice for making soups, chilis, spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes, or tomato dumplings, or for simply eating or drinking straight from the jar.

Those tomatoes spoiled me for any average tomatoes. The uniform round, red things from the grocery store never measure up. Every year, I eagerly await tomato season, when I can find heirloom varieties at my local farmers market. And though I’ve found some wonderful ones, I still haven’t found any that quite match the ones I remember.

I bought these at the Farmer's Market. Aren't they cute? I've never seen knobby tomatoes this small before.

I bought these at the farmers market. Aren’t they cute? I’ve never seen knobby tomatoes this small before. They’re the size of cherry tomatoes!

German Queen image from http://www.cherrygal.com/tomatoindgermanqueenheirloomseeds2010-p-13184.html

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I am the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy series, The Light-Bringer:

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I have also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes:

Undead of Winter Front Only Into the Storm Cover

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25 Responses to Tomatoes of My Youth

  1. Neva Bodin says:

    You had my mouth watering half way through the article! Love those tomatoes from the garden, the flavor is 100% different than from the store. I’ve canned a lot of tomatoes, ripe and green, the latter which make green tomatoe preserves, delicious on bread. My mom also canned a lot of both. Thanks for sharing your memories and dredging up some of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sstamm625 says:

      I forgot about the canned green tomatoes until you mentioned them, Neva, but my mom did those too. I don’t remember green tomato preserves. Thanks for tickling my memory as well.

      Like

  2. What a fantastic childhood memory! I absolutely love tomatoes and always buy fresh heirlooms or Japanese tomatoes at the farmer’s market. If I’m lucky, I’ll get the occasional tomato from a neighbor’s garden. I can’t eat them from the store anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sstamm625 says:

      Thanks, Sarah! Yeah, the “store” tomatoes are always disappointing. What are Japanese tomatoes, and how are they different from ours?

      Like

      • I’m not sure exactly. I always buy them from Steve, a Japanese farmer at our local farmer’s market here in Southern California. He tells me they’re low acid and very sweet (which they are!). I believe they’re grown locally here (probably Northern or Central CA) as I know there are a few Japanese farmers here who sell them. They’re absolutely lovely and if you ever come across some, you should definitely try them.

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  3. What a fantastic childhood you had surrounded by gorgeous tomatoes! I buy heirlooms and these wonderful Japanese tomatoes from our farmer’s market here. If I’m lucky, I get the occasional tomato from my neighbor’s garden. I can’t buy tomatoes from the store anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. wyoauthor1 says:

    Stephanie, your childhood garden memories sound so much like mine! My mother grew a HUGE garden in Iowa and picking, eating, and canning tomatoes were always a part of that annual garden ritual. You so are right: fresh garden tomatoes have store-bought beat all to heck! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your memories and triggering many of my own!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. erinfarwell says:

    I also have been spoiled by growing up on a farm and eating fresh from the garden vegetables. We also canned tomatoes but we didn’t have a special variety like yours. 🙂 Also, what are these tomato dumplings of which you speak?

    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sstamm625 says:

      Thanks, Erin! I used to love tomato dumplings. They’re kind of like country pasta. Mom would season tomato juice or stewed tomatoes, bring them to a boil, and then drop spoonfuls of batter into the hot tomatoes. Sometimes they were fluffy; sometimes they were tougher, more like gnocchi. Anyway, I really liked them, but I haven’t ever made them for myself. Maybe I should do that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love tomatoes, both canned and fresh. This week, I ordered cherry tomatoes and a can of stewed tomatoes from Albertson’s, but when my groceries were delivered, I only ended up with one large can of diced tomatoes. Oh well, my goulash will have more tomatoes than it usually does.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wranglers says:

    I think I love tomatoes more than most people. When I was a kid I had to eat pink or yellow tomatoes when everyone else had bright red tomatoes.. Mom and Dad always had a big garden, and I started earning extra money when I was 10, in the neighbirs tomatoe fields. I love tomatoes. One of my brothers raises lots and lots of tomatoes. He starts in October getting seeds set. He will have some for me when I get home later this month. This made my mouth water. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    • sstamm625 says:

      Thanks! You sound like you envied the friends with the red tomatoes, Cher’ley? Did you? I tend to like the pink or red more than the yellow, though yellows are good too.

      Like

  8. Mike Staton says:

    I love posts that look back at our childhoods… this will be one of my favorites. Makes me think back to the tomatoes my mom grew in the backyard of our home in Beverly, Ohio. We used them on the hamburgers we grilled on the back porch. That was back in the mid-70s.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Doris says:

    Like you, we had a garden when I was young. I don’t like tomatoes, but the rest of my family lived for their ripening. Oh the memories. Thank you for sharing, and here is to finding your tomato. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nancy Jardine says:

    Hi Stephanie. I’m a huge tomato fan and have grown different varieties. I agree there’s nothing quite like a juicy tomato straight off the vine. Lovely memories and I’m wondering if the gravy you talk about was a strong meaty gravy for the biscuits, or a lighter colour and more of a floury gravy? Whichever- I also love everything with gravy on it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Travis says:

    Wow, those are very unique tomato memories. Do you still have the seeds? I hope they are in use. My dad grew tomatoes and remember terrapins eating the low hanging ones. We’d throw the turtles into a creek a couple miles away and they’d come back a few days later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sstamm625 says:

      Thanks, Travis. We don’t have the seeds anymore. I’m not really sure what happened, but I guess when my parents stopped growing the garden, the seeds didn’t get passed on to my brothers, who had farms at the time. I think there was a blight for a couple years too.

      Like

  12. Joe Stephens says:

    I fear we’ll have to agree to disagree. My grandfather grew the best tomatoes in the world. My father carries on the tradition. Grandpa PK grew so many that all the sons and grandsons gathered at planting time to put them in the ground with him and then we also worked the plants through the summer. He supplemented his income and then retirement by selling to farmers markets and local stores, as well as having us kids sell them door-to-door in our neighborhoods. He was known in our area as the Tomato King. I still remember PK, even after two heart attacks, working circles around his adult sons. I also remember the amazing hot dogs with homemade sauce my Grandma Hazel served us for lunch.

    Like

  13. S. J. Brown says:

    Yes it is that time of year. Friends who come to visit my house leave with Tomatoes from the garden. I enjoy tomato sandwiches, we slice them & dice them. This is the only time of year I eat them. The ones in the stores seems bland and tasteless and simply can’t compare. I love this time of year since I can go into the garden and pick beans to go with dinner or dig up just a potato or two while selecting just the right tomato to slice.

    Like

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