Read on for this narrative I wrote for a college writing class about my experience with food and family in Italy. Enjoy! 🙂
Being a self-proclaimed foodie, it’s not really hard for me to talk about food and the memorable experiences they leave me with. I don’t usually give much importance to the healthy stuff like vegetables, fruits, grains and the like, but there comes a time when something as ordinary as a fruit becomes extraordinary.
Perhaps the most controversial of all fruits, the tomato is definitely the one that stands out the most to me. Fruits are generally termed fruits because of their seeds. If this is the case, then the tomato is, without a doubt, a fruit although it’s acknowledgement as such usually yields a disagreement.
The mysterious identity of tomatoes is not the only reason why I’m drawn to them. My love for these little red debate-starters is much stronger than that. It’s their tangy yet sweet taste, their shiny, scarlet pigment and the many shapes and forms in which tomatoes can come in that attracts my attention. Tomatoes also evoke memories for me; memories of the love that only family can offer.
It wasn’t until my third trip to Italy in 2005 that my love for tomatoes blossomed. During our first trip to Italy in 2001, my family and I had decided back to go back every two years to visit our family. I thought our trip would be the same this year as it was every year: long visits and gatherings with my great aunts and uncles, eating gallons of hazelnut gelato with my cousins and their friends in the ‘piazza,’ repeatedly hearing “You’ve grown so much!” from the neighbors and the shop owners around town. To some, this may sound like the best vacation out there but being an only child and barely knowing the language back then, it was pretty boring to be surrounded by my parents and people I vaguely remembered.
I woke up every morning to my parents telling me the play-by-play of who we were visiting that day. One Saturday morning, I was woken up to my dad hurrying me to get dressed so we could go to my great aunts house to make pizza. As soon as I heard pizza, I quickly jumped in the shower, anticipating the tender bites of mozzarella cheese on freshly baked ‘focaccia.’
I didn’t really believe we were making the pizza ourselves but I went along with the story. Just a few minutes away by car, we arrived at my great aunts house where she greeted us with the door wide open. A woman of nearly 80 years old, she was always busy around the house, especially in the kitchen. We walked through the garage and out to her back yard where I could hardly believe my eyes. Either I had walked into a heavy-duty agriculture pasture or my great aunt had quite a green thumb. The ground was covered in different shades of green, complete with wild strawberry plants, flourishing basil mounds and large cabbage heads. The part that most caught my attention, however, was the overwhelmingly large section of tomatoes, or ‘pomodoro’ as they are called in Italy.
First off, these tomatoes had nothing to envy from the large heirloom kind we find at Publix. These hefty red tomatoes were a class of their own. They were virgin – never sprayed with pesticides or chemicals. The asymmetry of each tomato was mind boggling, since I had only been exposed to the cookie-cutter shapes at the supermarket. I knew these tomatoes were different than anything I had ever seen and I just had to try them.
My great aunt gladly allowed me to grab a couple tomatoes from the vines after seeing my intense fascination. As I cut into these lumberjack-sized fruits, the ruby red juice of the tomato dripped down its rubbery skin. I sliced a couple slivers and then drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, made by my great aunt, of course, some fresh basil and a pinch of salt and pepper. I began chewing the slices and I could not believe my taste buds. These tomatoes tasted different- so rich and so juicy compared to any other tomato I had ever eaten. I could not only taste its zesty pulp and crisp skin; I could taste the love that was put into growing that specific tomato. It’s a very difficult concept to explain but, somehow, I was able to taste the care that my great aunt put into that tomato almost as if it had been harvested just for me.
We ended up making the pizza ourselves that morning and every family member managed to show up to help. The star of the show was, of course, the garden-fresh tomatoes in the pizza sauce my great aunt made.
Every time I bite into a tomato, I’m reminded of the day I enjoyed making pizza with my family at my great aunt’s house in St. Arsenio, Italy. Although I will never taste a tomato exactly like the one I had from the garden that day, my mind always takes me back to that moment of family and the tastes we shared. As hard as it is for me to agree that tomatoes are, in fact, a fruit, it’s not hard for me to relate these plump, red lumps of goodness with the irreplaceable memories shared with my family.