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This hot dry summer has produced staggeringly great tomatoes, and I’ve even taken a shot at growing a few varieties in a sunny corner on Long Island that belongs to my in-laws. As much as I’ve enjoyed cultivating the little crop, I think what has delighted me the most is the chance to eat them straight off the vine, which is how I fell in love with them in the first place.

As a child, I’d spend hours in my grandfather’s garden, doing some desultory weeding or trying to see if I could slip, silent as a Cherokee, through the tall asparagus ferns without alerting Beau and Bonnet, the two hunting dogs penned up close by. But mostly what I wanted to do (after heeding the constant parental admonition to “watch out for snakes”) was find a cool spot underneath the vast tangle of tomato vines, breathe in their musky scent until I got almost dizzy, and then settle down to read my way through the Wizard of Oz books. My mother thought they were trash, so I had to sneak them, one at a time, from the bookshelf of my friend next door. About every chapter or so, I’d take a big bite of the ripest tomato within reach, trying like murder not to drip juice or seeds onto the adventures of Dorothy or Princess Ozma. It was heaven.

These days, I choose my tomatoes at the Union Square Greenmarket, either from Keith Stewart’s fabulous organic farm or the incomparable Sue Dare, of Cherry Lane Farms, who also keeps me supplied with okra.

I choose tomatoes at different stages of ripeness to get us through the week. I keep  them at room temperature but out of direct sunlight, and always stem side up—their plump, curved shoulders bruise easily, otherwise. I stew some of the smaller tomatoes with the okra and spoon everything over hot buttered rice; I slice the big, rich-tasting Brandywines on a platter with fresh mozzarella and basil; at the end of the week, I cut up whatever tomatoes are left, salt them, and let them get along with one another for a few hours before tossing them with spaghetti.

But still, nothing beats biting into a sun-warmed tomato just pulled off the vine. Wow, can you smell that smell? What a wonderful summer.

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