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The Real Things

The Real Things
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle
The Real Things
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle

Oh, bless your heart! If the only tomatoes and peaches you’ve ever tasted are the supermarket’s weak imitations — all gloomy and blah from their refrigerated- and-stored slumber or their sloshing around in cans — then, my darling reader, you’ve been dining on lies. Pure lies! I can’t begin to explain to you the deprivation you’ve endured if you’ve never eaten a “real” tomato or “real” peach. Here in the South, where produce is fresh and flavor is king, eating a warm, sunkissed tomato right off the vine or a juicy peach right off the tree branch is a summer sacrament.

First, let’s talk about the blushing pride of Southern gardens: the tomato. Not that insipid impostor that lurks in grocery store aisles, but a true, vine-ripened glory. The kind that’s been soaking up the Southern sun, absorbing all the sass and soul of the earth until they’re ready to burst with flavor like a gospel choir hitting a high note during a Sunday morning service. One bite anoints you with flavor so robust, you’ll feel the need to sit down and fan yourself.

When my father was alive, he could grow tomatoes with the best of them. He supported his large plants with cages made from fencing and bathed his plants in Miracle-Gro. As a result, he grew “maters” as big as grapefruits that were packed with “real” tomato flavor. I still remember the pride plastered on his face as neighbors questioned him about “his process.”

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I visited my mother, Wanda Collins, in Toombs County, we purchased some “real” tomatoes from Vernon Kennedy at Ohoopee Farms on Highway 292. We bought some Texas toast from the grocery store and fried a few pieces of thick-sliced bacon in a cast iron skillet. We sat down at the table, said a blessing, slathered some mayonnaise on the bread and layered it with big slabs of warm, ripe tomato, lettuce, and crispy bacon. Before we capped our sandwiches with the other pieces of bread, we showered them with plenty of salt and black pepper. This, my friends, is called a genuine BLT, and it’s worth its weight in gold when made with a “real” tomato.

And then, there’s the peach, that velvety-skinned harbinger of Southern summer joy. If you think a canned peach is the real deal, then honey, think again! A real peach, the kind plucked from the orchard on a hot, steamy June or July afternoon, is nothing short of a celebration of life. It’s a sun-drenched daydream in the palm of your hand — fuzz and all. A bite into its tender flesh is akin to receiving a sweet, nectary kiss from nature itself — a flavor so out of this world that supermarket produce cowers in shame.

When I was a child growing up outside of Warner Robins, my mother always took the time to drive us to either a peach tree field to hand pick our own basket of fruit or to a processing facility near the Macon Airport to buy some ready to go. I remember her inquiring about whether the peaches were freestone or clings, and I can still smell the heavenly aroma wafting through the car as we drove home. Most of all, I remember the taste of those plump peaches — eaten in cobblers, in freshly churned ice cream, or right out of the basket.

My daddy couldn’t stand to watch us eat the peaches without first removing the fuzz with a paring knife. He said watching us devour the skin made his skin crawl, which was crazy to me because he loved okra, and it, too, had a fuzzy exterior.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: “Real” tomatoes and peaches aren’t just food; they are experiences. That fraudulent fruit that masquerades in local supermarkets — bred continued from page

for longevity rather than flavor — can’t hold a candle to real tomatoes and peaches. They look good, but they are tasteless and disappointing. If you live in Georgia and have never had the pleasure of indulging in the real things of summer, then I feel sorry for you. I guess it’s like going to the beach and not dipping a single toe into the foamy ocean waves.

But to all of us Southerners who know the pure pleasure of enjoying the real things in life, let’s count our many blessings that we live in farm country! Run — don’t walk — to a roadside stand and get you some “real” “maters” and peaches today. And take napkins, because you’re going to need several to wipe the juice off your chin.

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