My Tomatoes Are Staring at Me

So I made gazpacho — very good — but the big tomatoes kept coming. Spaghetti sauce, I thought. Almost two weeks ago I laid in the ingredients I didn’t already have on hand: mushrooms, a long coil of hot Italian sausage, a can of tomato purée. I entered “spaghetti sauce” on the week’s to-do list, which I keep in a spiral-bound day book.

I accomplished many things that week, but spaghetti sauce was not one of them. Spaghetti sauce takes time, I told myself. I am too busy. Tomatoes kept coming from the garden, but the old ones were developing black spots on top and squishy patches on the sides. I didn’t dare think what was happening to the mushrooms. I wrote “spaghetti sauce” at the top of the new week’s to-do list.

Twice I cut a lengthy section off the sausage and cooked it up for supper. If I ate all the sausage, I couldn’t make spaghetti sauce and it would then be OK to chuck the tomatoes and the mushrooms into the compost.

The tomatoes kept staring at me. They stared at me while I stood at the counter making tea or buttering toast or stirring my oatmeal. They stared at me while I sat across the room, typing away at my laptop. They knew when I wasn’t working. They knew when I was playing Spider solitaire. You don’t ever want a boss as psychic as those tomatoes.

Having been brought up Low Church Episcopalian and jumped ship by the time I was 13, I often claim to be immune to guilt. This is not true. Those tomatoes were making me feel guilty. You are letting us rot, they said. It wasn’t about children starving in Africa, Asia, or any other place. It was about waste, it was about neglect. Finally it dawned on me: I was afraid of my own tomatoes.

I was also afraid that the mushrooms had turned to black icky in the fridge. Black icky isn’t as bad as the gelatinous goo that long-neglected celery turns into, but it’s not pleasant either.

Last night I got brave. I rose from my computer and started pulling pots out of the cupboard: the big stock pot for the sauce, a smaller saucepan in which to boil water and peel the tomatoes. Once I got that far, the rest was easy. Time-consuming but easy. The mushrooms were way past their prime but still usable. The squishy places and black spots on the tomatoes could be cut away. I brought in basil and Greek oregano from the garden. A couple hours later I had some tasty sausage-mushroom spaghetti sauce and the apartment smelled great.

There are four big tomatoes on the counter. All were picked within the last three days. They are not staring at me.


About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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5 Responses to My Tomatoes Are Staring at Me

  1. Hal Davis says:

    A recommended song:
    Guy Clark – Homegrown Tomatoes


    Ain’t nothin’ in the world that I like better
    Than bacon & lettuce & homegrown tomatoes
    Up in the mornin’ out in the garden
    Get you a ripe one don’t get a hard one

    Plant `em in the spring eat `em in the summer
    All winter with out `em’s a culinary bummer
    I forget all about the sweatin’ & diggin’
    Every time I go out & pick me a big’n

    Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes
    What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes
    Only two things that money can’t buy
    That’s true love & homegrown tomatoes

    You can go out to eat & that’s for sure
    But it’s nothin’ a homegrown tomato won’t cure
    Put `em in a salad, put `em in a stew
    You can make your very own tomato juice

    Eat `em with eggs, eat `em with gravy
    Eat `em with beans, pinto or navy
    Put `em on the side put `em in the middle
    Put a homegrown tomato on a hotcake griddle

    If I’s to change this life I lead
    I’d be Johnny Tomato Seed
    `Cause I know what this country needs
    Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see

    When I die don’t bury me
    In a box in a cemetery
    Out in the garden would be much better
    I could be pushin’ up homegrown tomatoes


  2. Marie-Lynn says:

    The tomatoes lined up on my windowsill and staring at me are clearly related to your tomatoes…


  3. susan robinson says:

    Good you snatched your character at the last moment from becoming icky or worse. I wait to see if you grow tomatoes next year.


    • I’ve grown tomatoes two years in a row in the same very small plot, and I’m told that next year the soil should get a break from tomatoes and grow something else. Hmm. I also want to build the soil up closer to the dinghy’s gunwales, with dirt, manure, compost, etc., so maybe that would make it OK to grow tomatoes again. Not as many as this year, and probably just cherries. The big ones are too scary!


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