You say blighted to-may-to, I say blighted to-mah-to
One of the great pleasures of New England summer is experiencing those few brief shining moments in August when we have native corn on the cob and tomatoes. When I still had a car, I would make an annual pilgrimage to the farm stand on Route 9, near Breezy Bend, outside Worcester - Sujan's? Sujin's? Sugean's? Leicester? Spencer? - for a dozen ears of corn and a few pounds of the tomatoes that would provide the centerpiece for the world's tastiest sandwich: BLT, with or without the B.
Alas, this year's New England tomato crop is coming a cropper, thanks to an ultra-rainy summer, and the blight. The same blight that, in the 1840's, turned the Irish potato crop into suppurating black ooze. Since the Irish were so dependent on their praties as a dietary staple, a dying crop meant a dying populace. The Great Famine - An Gorta Mór - killed a million or so Irish outright, through starvation, and forced another million onto ships for Amerikay.
My ancestors were not among them. Somehow - luck, pluck, or location - they managed to hang on, and didn't emigrate until the 1870's.
Not to say that they weren't impacted. I'm quite sure that least some of them were.
When PBS ran their Irish in America series some years back, there was a scene that showed the ration card of one Patrick Rogers of Roscommon, who was signing up for the 1840's version of food stamps to keep his family from starving. As Roscommon is the home turf of the Rogers family, Patrick was likely related. (As far as I know, there are no Protestants in the family tree, so I don't believe that Patrick was a soup-er, i.e., one who converted from Catholicism to ensure that the Protestant missionary ladling out the free soup drew from the bottom of the pot, and didn't just skim the surface.)
Fortunately, no one will be dying of starvation, emigrating, or converting to Protestantism because the New England tomato crop is dying.
Still, what with the wet and the overcast, it's been a bummer enough of a summer, without denying us the meager joys of those few weeks when lush red tomatoes, still smelling of earth and sun, came our way.
But wait - as the late, loud Billy Mays would say - there's more.
It seems our tomato crop is dying at least in part because of cheapo-depot plants purchased at Walmart and Home Depot. (As if we needed another reason for fearing and loathing big box stores!) Blight-bearing plants get planted, blight-bearing spores go airborne, and the fungus is among us.
While both organic and non-organic farmers are hit, it's the organics who suffer the most, since they won't use the potent blight-be-gone chemicals that the non-orgos will resort to.
So, the organic farmers, who - and I'll go out on a bit of a limb here - didn't buy their seedlings from Walmart, get infected by their neighbors who did. Meanwhile, the Walmart gardeners are, I'm guessing, at least marginally more likely to use skull-and-crossbones labeled fungicides to salvage their crop.
I call double no fair for those organic farmers.
We suffer through 10-11 long months weighing the tomato options:
- Pink, fibrous TINOs (Tomatoes In Name Only) packaged in cellophane-covered plastic trays
- Grape or cherry tomatoes - fine in salads not much on a sandwich
- Pricey hydroponic and/or imported tomatoes that taste okay, but are not quite the same as native
Only to find we may have to wait another year to sink our teeth into a prime, juicy, local tomato.
Okay, it's not exactly An Gorta Mór. But, apparently, there was another term the Irish used for the famine - at least according to Wikipedia, and I can't remember the last time they let me down. It was An Drochshaol, The Bad Life.
Sure, it's a just a minor disappointment, and I would never use caps to describe this summer of our tomato discontent. But, if this isn't the bad life exactly, it's sure not the good life we were all hoping for with our August tomatoes.
It's such a disappointment, I'd almost consider becoming a Proddie for a tomato sandwich.