In Search of Tomatoes

(Essay)

Last year, 2020, Bharati could not undertake her annual tomato-making project because of the COVID 19 insurgence and our decision to sell our house.

Pickle making, for her, is a daylong effort once the right type of tomatoes in the right quantity is acquired. The tomatoes need to be of the right color, texture, and taste. They cannot be too sweet or sour or green. The red plump ones are the ideal ones. From dicing the fruit in small chunks to mixing the ingredients and letting the whole concoction simmer on slow heat for a few hours in a large pot, occasionally stirring, takes up almost the whole day. Anyone entering our house can instantly smell the aroma of the fresh pickle.

Bharati relishes distributing the fresh pickle to family and friends. A few years ago, she bought small jars, labeled them “Bharati’s Tomato Pickle” and gave them as gifts. Everyone enjoyed the gifts. They used the paste as a sandwich spread or as a side condiment with their meals. Our son-in-law Ryan especially takes pleasure in having a spoonful with Upma.

We moved into our new home in Ellicott City on April 1st,2021. Bharati decided it was time to make the pickle. The problem was to find a store with the right products. We visited the neighborhood grocery stores. A google search for nearby farms was not encouraging either. At least from the photos, the places appeared small with only one stall and not much produce.

Bharati had recently joined the Howard County Gardener’s group on Facebook.

“Why don’t you post a question to see if someone knows if there are any farmer’s markets in our neighborhood. Some of the locals would know.”  I recommended.

The post yielded many suggestions. Some recommended places that were far away and others not that far. The Manor Hill brewery on a locally owned farm in nearby Columbia had one that was open on Saturdays only. The Howard County Library hosted one every Wednesday. Both turned out to be small one-shop stores that did not offer much choice.

On a Sunday, a week ago, we were done with our Sunday morning routine of leisurely reading the morning paper with breakfast. We watched the Meet the Press show. It was getting close to lunchtime.

“What do you want for lunch?” Bharati asked. As usual, I had no answer.

It is always a tricky situation. Most of the time my response is to ask what is the choice.

“Why don’t we get some bagels?” I took a chance.

“Good idea.” Bharati accepted to my delight, but added, “Should we try the farmers’ market in Catonsville. On the way, we can get the bagels.”

That was an easy one. I agreed.

The Farmer’s market was about twenty-five minutes away. It was a chance for us to explore a new neighborhood. We drove along Fredrick Boulevard and passed the historic Ellicott City with quaint coffee shops and other stores.

“We should come back here and explore the area,” Bharati said.

I agreed.

A few miles up the road we came across beautiful homes with their well-manicured lawns. Mothers walked with toddlers in their arms, sometimes accompanied by children on bicycles or skateboards tagging along. A few blocks away Bharati pointed to a building that looked like a restaurant with hanging plants and tables and chairs outside.

“Look. Let’s check it out on our way back. Maybe they have a good brunch.”

I wasn’t sure. To me, it looked like a nursery, not a restaurant. But I didn’t want to argue. This happens quite often. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus-like they say and we are a good example of that.

By the time we reached the market, it was past noon. We noticed that there were several stalls and to Bharati’s delight a store right in the entrance with three carts filled with red plump tomatoes. There were other stores with different wares. We wanted to explore but noticed that some of them were wrapping up.

“Are you guys closing?” I asked one lady who was tying something with a string.

“Yes,” she said. “We are open each Sunday from nine am to noon.”

We did not know this. We worried that the store with the tomatoes will close and our trip would be wasted.

“Look, look,” I pointed to Bharati. “They are closing but let’s see if the lady will sell the tomatoes.”

We approached the store expecting the vendor to turn us back and hoping she wouldn’t.

“Are you closing?” I asked.

“Yes, but no problem.” The vendor lady said. “Pick what you want.”

Bharati hastily picked fifteen pounds. The vendor even  threw in a couple that had a dark spot on them.

“This will do, but I wish I had more time to look. For a farmers’ market, the price is kind of high.” Bharati said.

“Well, you got what you wanted,” I said.

Later we were to find that the prices in the grocery stores were higher.

We wanted to try out the place we had crossed on our way to the market that looked like a nursery to me. We parked our car and approached where there were tables and chairs outside. They were unoccupied. We entered through a side door. There was a small room with people dressed up.

“Is there a restaurant here?” we asked an elderly lady who was coming in. She was wearing a floral dress and a decorative hat.

“Yes. You need to enter from the main road. There is a memorial service going on here.”

We thanked her.

The entrance to the restaurant was indeed from the main road. We needed to climb half a dozen steps. To our right, on an open patio, a party was in progress. Mostly young girls and ladies with colorful attire occupied the tables on the outdoor patio. There were stacks of gifts by the rear wall. One look at the gifts made it clear that a baby shower was in progress. One lady looked at us and pointed to a door to our left. We understood that she was pointed to the entrance we needed to use.

We asked for a table outside. Their menu offered many options for breakfast or lunch, from omelets to sandwiches and other dishes. The waitress informed us that it was a very popular place for parties and they had three floors to accommodate large parties.

We started thinking about which of our friends we can bring to this great place. Maybe we can celebrate some birthdays. There were several possibilities.

Overall, it turned out to be a great day. Bharati found her tomatoes and we ended up discovering a great place to visit for a special occasion or just to enjoy a good meal.

5 thoughts on “In Search of Tomatoes

  1. Liked that narrative! Leisurely pace and evocative… would like to get to know more about Ellicot City in the same manner…

    Like

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