The Perfect Tomato

red-tomato-vegetableFor my husband’s birthday I made his favorite dish: pasta Bolognese. In the three decades I’ve been making this meaty sauce, this was the first time the planets aligned in a harmonic convergence which culminated in one batch of unequivocal, undeniable—perfection. This accomplishment should fill me with pride—right?—but all I feel is doomed.

I’m doomed because no other Bolognese will ever be as good. This will be the Bolognese by which all others are judged—and believe me, they will be judged—and they will come up short. Why didn’t I have the foresight to cook the sauce just a bit too long so it dried out a little? It would still be very good. But nooooo! I’m an idiot who strives for perfection when I should know by now that very good is good enough. Why didn’t I learn from that unfortunate incident in the summer of ’94, the summer that I grew my first, my last, my only—perfect tomato.

My husband still talks of that ethereal red sphere. That ruby beefsteak has taken on mythic proportions. No other tomato will ever reach those Olympian heights. It was the tomato that launched a thousand ships. The Holy Grail of tomatoes. The unblemished skin gave up its juicy interior with almost no pressure on the knife. Not like today’s genetically-engineered Frankenseeds that are manipulated to create a tough, bug-resistant skin that could never be sliced in mid-air by John Belushi, no matter how sharp his samurai sword. Today’s tomatoes would have deprived an entire generation of the pleasures of Samurai Delicatessen.

That perfect tomato tasted like the sweetness of long, summer days, of sunshine, of fresh air, and just the right amount of rain. It’s thick juicy slices made an unequaled tomato sandwich. And therein lies the problem. I’ve never been able to repeat that magical combination. Every tomato I’ve grown since then, no matter how good, is always sadly lacking, always disappointing.

My husband often asks, “Why can’t we—note we meaning me—grow good tomatoes anymore?” I swear if I hear that one more time I’ll throw a rotten tomato at him. And that is not an idle threat because I can grow those.

It’s been said that, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad.” If only I’d also had the wisdom to let that perfect tomato stay on the vine just one day too long, just until it passed its peak of color and flavor, I could have saved myself from this perfection paradox. But nooooo. I picked it at exactly the right moment. I’ll always regret my impatience for not waiting until that tomato had reached its ideal stage of imperfection.

I can blame scientists for my inability to grow another perfect tomato, but when it comes to Bolognese, I have only myself to blame.