Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sweet Memories: Mimi, Me & the Jersey Tomatoes

Along about mid - July in my Hunting Park (Philly) neighborhood, the huckster would sing a different song as he came down the wide alley between our block - 9th Street - and 8th Street. It was usually very early in the morning. In those days of no air conditioning, he got an early start; his was a very hot job.

Sometimes I would wake up to the "song" and I still hear it clearly in my memory today.

                          "Jersey tomatoes. Three pounds for half a dollar". 

He would stretch out the "jersey tomato"part of course. It was a sing song that would be repeated over and over again loudly until he would find a spot, stop his truck, and begin to attend to all of the neighborhood women heading towards him.

Half a dollar/three pounds. I can't even think of a way to examine that reality! So I'll move on.

Oh those tomatoes!  Mimi - my grandmother, and chief cook and bottle washer in our home - would come into the kitchen with her assorted produce purchases and spread them out to examine them. Much as I do today. And always she would very carefully handle those tomatoes, giving them their own wide bowl.

Then the Hellman's, some sandwich plates, a couple of knives, salt, and the white sandwich bread would be brought to the table.  The bread was always, always, Strohman's. She despised that "Wonderful" bread! We never could get her to say Wonder.  In later years she discovered Pepperidge Farm white bread, but at the big house on 9th Street, it was always Strohman's. 

Mimi and I would sit at the table and she would make us tomato sandwiches.  Sandwiches with lots of slices of tomatoes, very thinly sliced and ever so slightly sprinkled with salt.  We were the only ones in the house who ate them! Not my grandfather, my parents, my sister, or our friend Marion who rented the apartment upstairs wanted any part of a sandwich with "only a tomato" on it. Crazy people.

Oh, the deliciousness of it! The warmth of the tomatoes, the way the juices would run into the soft white bread, the creaminess of the mayonaisse with tomato juices mixing into it, and no matter how hard I tried, the juices running all over my hands and face. 

We would look at each other over our sandwiches and smile and moan and eventually laugh at what a mess we were making. 

These days I make my sandwiches with my homemade mayonaisse, and soft white bread from a local bakery, but it is still all there. I see her laughing as I eat. Laughing because we were so glad that the others didn't want to share.  More for us. As I got older, there were a number of things that only Mimi and I enjoyed.  Dishes that nobody else in the house wanted any part at that time anyway. Food was a big connection between a woman who'd been a flapper in Atlantic City and, as a result, was sent off to Danville, Pennsylvania to work on a relative's (who were Mennonites) farm for many years, and the wacky sixties kid I was to become.

This picture is the first  Ramapo - a real Jersey tomato - that we harvested from our garden here at Il Moya.  It looks like we will yield about 10 or a bit more from our planting.  Every one of those tomatoes will be eaten exactly the same way. I'll be sharing with my better half of course, but these tomatoes won't be cooked, frozen, oven dried or anything else.  They will be thinly sliced, placed on soft white bread that has been spread with mayo and a sprinkle of salt. We will eat and the juices will run down our hands and we will smile. 

Thanks Mimi!

                          "Jersey tomatoes. Three pounds for half a dollar".


  1. Love this story! Forgot about the word "huckster", but heard my mom refer to this pivotal character many times...