Ode to the Tomato

Posted by on December 2nd, 2019

My husband is a native of Chile, and we lived there for several years before moving to the United States. Like every Chilean I know, he is justifiably proud of Chilean agriculture, which produces some of the creamiest avocados, sweetest apples, and juiciest grapes I’ve had the pleasure of consuming.

During our years in Santiago, we would make weekly pilgrimages to La Vega, the labyrinthine central market, where one can wander among tables stacked to head-height with fresh produce.

La Vega Central

Here in our new home, most of our vegetables come from a climate-controlled supermarket. For the most part, we’ve adjusted to that fact, but there is one food on which he refuses to compromise: the humble tomato. Determined to replicate the deep-red, flavorful tomatoes he left behind, he has taken to the painstaking cultivation of every seed he can rescue from the best specimens available to us here, planting them in tiny cups and tending to the shoots like an anxious nursemaid.

Recently, his efforts paid off, as five or six of the hardiest plants bloomed at once and then filled with fruit. Just as he’d been assuring me, they have been some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted, and were well worth the wait.

Another Chilean also famously showed his love for the tomato. Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda summed up his appreciation in his well-known Ode to the Tomato, translated here:

The roadway

is full of tomatoes,

midday,

summer,

the light

splits itself

in two

halves

of tomato,

runs

down the roads

as juice.

In December

it goes wild

the tomato,

invades

kitchens,

infiltrates lunches,

settles itself

quietly

on sideboards,

among glasses,

butter-dishes,

blue salt-shakers.

It has

its own light,

gentle authority.

Sadly we have to

murder it:

sinking,

the knife

in its living pulp,

it is a red

heart,

a fresh

sun,

deep,

inexhaustible,

filling the salads

of Chile,

is happily wedded

to the clear onion,

and to celebrate

oil

lets itself

pour,

essential

child of the olive,

over its half-open hemispheres,

the peppers

add

their fragrance,

salt its magnetism:

it’s a stylish

wedding,

parsley

lifts

little flags,

the potatoes

boil with vigour,

the roast

knocks

on the door

with its aroma,

it’s time!

come on!

and on to

the table, in the middle

of summer,

the tomato,

earth-star,

star

repeated

and fecund,

shows us

its convolutions,

its channels,

the famous fullness

and plenty

delivers up

without stone

without rind

without scales or spines

the gift

of its fiery color

and the whole of its freshness.

On your next visit to Chile, take some time to appreciate the gift of that earth-star, the gentle tomato, and the rest of the glorious fresh produce the country has on offer. And if you’re not as great a fan of the tomato as my husband or Pablo Neruda, not to fear – the country also produces some of the world’s best wine, the consumption of which is another excellent way to appreciate the fruits of local agriculture.

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