Comfort food, soul food, mama’s cooking…these are words that instill a sense of peace and longing for an innocent time, a time when food meant love and warmth and family gathering. As we grew older our relationship with food changed; for some it became an enemy to be avoided, for others it became a friend when there were no others, and for some it became something to be understood and respected.
I remember – when I was just a mere toddler – sitting on my sister’s hip and peering into the stew pot simmering out fragrant smells. My sister was checking for done-ness and adjusting seasonings. I was enthralled with the chunks of bubbling meat and vegetables, the dark tomato-y orange of the sauce, and the smell of the tiny green leaves of thyme. How did I know it was thyme? When we picked the leaves off the brown stems the aroma stayed on my fingers and when she added them to the stew it smelled even better mingling with all the other delicious ingredients.
I remember getting excited in the mornings because I knew I was going to the marketplace with my sister. I can still see her now; baby on one hip and woven basket swaying on the other.
I can still remember the scent of a cool ocean breeze wafting off the fishmongers, and the sights of fresh fishes with bright eyes and shiny scales, strings of clean crabs smelling of seaside mud, and fat pink shrimps in neat little pyramids.
I remember the kind faces of farmers standing behind their piles of fruits and vegetables laid out in rainbow colours.
Marketplaces in a time when grocery stores did not exist. Marketplaces in countries that are yet unchanged by foreign corporations. Marketplaces of today – where farmers grow organic food. Marketplaces will always hold some magic deep within our collective souls.
I remember the feel of a plump sun-warmed tomato under my chubby fingers, the scarred grooves, and the smell of the stem – that gorgeous earthy-woody-sharp scent that belongs only to a tomato. The colours ranged from dense-green and firm-fleshed for frying Southern style, to fire truck reds begging to be sauced and stewed.
Being from South America, where tomatoes originated, I feel a special bond with them. Tomatoes showed up in our dishes as a star, a supporting actor, or made a guest appearance, and stole the show every time.
There were the bountiful salsas done a hundred ways.
Chilli dishes spicy and chock-full of vegetables, served always with sweet cornbread.
Sauces, for Italian cooking, canned for later uses.
Baked with fish and lemons inspired by Greek Psari.
Every sandwich, introduced to us by the British, came with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.
And when I grew up nothing said Canada better that a bloody Caesar.
The French called it pomme d’amore (apple of love), the Italians called them pomi d’oro (apples of gold), and Americans referred to an attractive woman as a hot tomato. Me I just call it, bring it on, add more tomatoes, and let’s slice some tomatoes…you get my drift.
I would love to see the whole world grow organic, reap crops nurtured by soil, sun and water. I would love to see heirloom everything; food that is unchanged, not genetically modified to non-food.
Do you ever wonder? With all the non-food we eat will we evolve into non-humans?
When left to grow just like it did in the old days, food, I find, is more fascinating than human nature.
Quite a few seed merchants and banks provide a large selection of heirloom seeds. The definition of an heirloom tomato is vague, but unlike commercial hybrids, all are self-pollinators that have bred true for 40 years or more.