Flavors at Home: Early Girl Tomatoes During a Strange Summer

August brought ripe early girls tomatoes but also an especially destructive fire season.  (Ruth Gebreyesus)

In my memory of summers in California, August meant many things before it came to mean fire season. 

One of those things was early girl tomatoes that appear at the market right around then. I don’t pass them up until they leave in October. Bright red and plump, early girls are simple and sweet, like the myth of summer itself. Eaten raw, their juicy sugariness reminds you tomatoes are indeed a fruit. Cooked, they turn luxurious with the simplest treatment of olive oil, garlic and salt in a hot oven. There’s a Bay Area ritual among early girl devotees to cook them, jar them and save them for winter’s coldest nights for memories of warmer days. 

My favorite way to enjoy them is a low maintenance kit I used to assemble for picnics and other outdoor adventures with friends—ideally, many friends and just as many early girls. It goes something like this: a baguette as fresh as I can get it, a couple of tins of anchovies, a soft and creamy mild cheese and the star of the show, early girl tomatoes. I sometimes skip the cheese or feel okay about forgetting it because the combination of early girls and anchovies is so stellar, it doesn’t leave me wanting. 

Last year, by some luck and conspiring, I ended up on a sailboat on a warm and breezy September day where I made this sandwich for all
aboard. It was a hit. 

Still More Flavors At Home

This year, early girls and anchovies are a lonelier activity, but it’s what the times call for. Still the tomatoes are sweet and the anchovies pack a tangy saltiness. And as the seasons come to pass under vastly different circumstances, I’ve found no use in reverting back or longing for what I used to do. In fact, I want to change and for everything and everyone around me to change. Not to adapt and accept new normals and defaults, but to shift entirely towards a more equitable reality. 

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Next summer, I wonder if the early girls will have a sticker that indicates if the folks who picked them were paid living wages at the very least. And if it got too smoky to pick again next August, and the tomatoes were absent from their usual spot at the market, that’d be better than looking at early girls and thinking of ash falling on the backs of farm workers. There's no improving the taste of early girl tomatoes, but the labor behind that sweet taste requires so much improvement.