Thursday, June 1, 2017

Back on the Farm and sun-ripened tomatoes

    I read a remark last week about farmers being unable to find tomato pickers even at $150 a day. Of course, that brought memories of my childhood, when a farmhand was fortunate if he got $1.00 a day.
   That also brought memories of having a dish of ripe tomatoes twice a day, and at that time, didn't realize how fortunate I was to be raised on a farm.
     Those were the years of the Great Depression, and my dad had to switch from being a cotton farmer to a truck farmer. In fact, he had to leave his cotton crop, unpicked, in the field, because the selling price wouldn't pay for the cost of having it picked.
     Today's generation may find the term "truck farming" a bit puzzling, but it's an old term from the 1800s referring to carrying fresh vegetables to market. In those early years through the 30s,"trucking" was done with wagons  although lots of Model T Fords were adapted to hauling.
      You young folks gotta remember that life existed before pickup trucks and cell phones—.or Walmart or Home Depot. Dad raised his own tomato plants...hundreds of them. I know because I was the one who dropped them in the hole that one of my parents  dug for each plant. And since rain often does not come at the most convenient time, those same plants had to be watered by hand.
     The earliest crop of tomatoes brought the highest prices, so my dad built a framed bed that he could cover with a roll back canvas cover to protect the young plants from a freeze. There was no running water...the only power on most farms was human energy and four-legged horse we pumped water, and used a syrup bucket with holes punched in the bottom to water the plants.
     There was a risk attached to trying for an early crop—Texas weather! Hail or a late spring freeze. There was little a farmer could do to protect a field of young plants from hail, but there were many times we covered the plants with paper tents from old Saturday Post magazines. Row after row of plants spaced four feet apart, all needing to be covered with paper tents.
     That trusty magazine came into use again when the tomatoes were ready for market. The pages were separated and used to line the bushel baskets so the tomatoes would be protected from damage from the rough basket and its tiny staples.
     Our house had a long south front porch, and that was where we sorted and packed the tomatoes  for hauling to market. Ripe tomatoes were set aside to be packed in baskets for local sales—one day of shipping and they would haveturned  to a juicy mush. Scared tomatoes were not packed for sale. Those were commonly called "cat-faced." I never saw one that resembled a cat in any way, but I suppose someone did at some time.
    Tomatoes were not tumbled into baskets and carried to market. They were packed in rings, starting with the ones with just a blush of pink, and gradually getting riper as the basket was filled. Beautiful things! Something to dream of, nowadays, as we visit the produce section of our supermarkets.

      If you've never picked tomatoes, you may not know that contact with the vines turns your hands a dirty-looking green. And I'll bet you don't know thar the best way to remove it is by sqeezing a tomato into a pulp and rubbing it all over your hands like soap.

The good ole days.