Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Making tomato soup in late summer

When I mention that I saw a little farm stand with summer squash on the way to a socially-distanced visit with a friend in Lincoln, she tells me to stop at the farm stand next to the river on the way home through Bristol. I don’t remember any farm stand there, but sure enough, there it is. 
An enthusiastic, smiling woman greets me as I find summer squash. She talks to a man inside a building. As I look around, there is abundance. I have never seen so many tomatoes. All the vine-y things like watermelon and the squash — Blue Hubbard, butternut, acorn and more — are in piles. While I am choosing yellow squash, zucchini, and a cucumber, her husband comes out. When I ask who grew all this, his face softens and he nods to his wife with a smile. “We did.” She adds, “with a little help from two girls.” 
When I express how impressed I am, the husband mentions that even the canning tomatoes don’t look like canners this year. Oh? Where are they? He leads me to a large hay wagon covered with boxes of lower-priced tomatoes. Usually, with canners, you can see the imperfections of bruises and scars right away, but I see none. Here are cardboard boxes of perfect tomatoes covering a whole flat hay wagon. I have to buy one of the smaller $10 ones, even though I have already made and frozen marinara from farmers’ market tomatoes and don’t really need more. They are too beautiful and reasonably priced to pass up. 
The box seems like a small amount of tomatoes on my counter the next day, so I pull out a pile of less than half to wash and prepare, an amount I think will be about the right number. But when I find my favorite Indian tomato soup recipe, it calls for only one and a half pounds of tomatoes. That small amount I took from the box should do it, but just to be sure, I put them into a bowl to weigh them. My sense of a small amount is way off, after being at that farm stand. The pile I have washed weighs ten pounds so now I will need to adjust the amount of other ingredients. 
The kitchen begins to heat up as I boil water to loosen the skins by dunking the tomatoes. Standing at the counter chopping the pulp, the sun pours in and my shirt sticks to me. At first, I enjoy this end-of-summer stickiness, but then it is too hot. As I pull the shade down, I wonder if I can change the temperature as a lama yogi in Mongolia did. He placed a red-hot iron bar on his tongue. It sizzled. How did he do it? By making it cold like ice cream in his mind. Well, I’m not a yogi. I wipe my forehead as the cast iron Dutch oven bubbles with the scents of bay leaves, scallions, and garlic.
When I glance up from thirteen finished pints, I notice more than half a box of unblemished, plump tomatoes still waiting for something. 
All that happens on these two days goes into this food: the farmers at the stand, the sun so hot I have to pull the shade down, the bubbling cast iron. This is exactly what I want to remember in the winter when I pull the soup out of the freezer. When I sit down to lunch I don’t need to be a yogi to feel the heat, the beauty of the fruit, the abundance of the harvest, and see the faces of the farmers. When I eat this tomato soup, it will be more than food.
Reveling in abundance this fall, Sas Carey has been cooking and writing to her heart’s content.

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