Walking in the woods at Metrobeach today with Keith, I said, "Something smells weird." A moment later, after sniffing and analyzing the scent, I announced, "It smells like squashed caterpillars!"
As often happens, Keith was basically tuning me out (I must talk too much, that he finds it necessary to tune me out like that) so I went on considering the odor and it's implications. An image of my grandmother flashed into my mind. My Italian grandmother, Nicolina Maria. Fat, obese, squinting into the sun, round face, round body, large round arms to hold me on a lap compromised by her obesity. She smelled, I decided, like squashed caterpillars, a very pungent smell.
And why, I wondered, only for a moment, before the answer came, why was the smell of squashed caterpillars something in my childhood repertoire of identifiable smells? Instantly I knew: because it was my job as a child to go into the family garden and search the tomatoes for the huge " tomato worms" and kill them. They hid well among the leaves and stems and when I approached them, they reared up and swelled themselves larger, looking terribly fierce. Their strong scent was from the tomato plants they fed on. On the one hand, I was a little afraid of them. One the other hand, I respected them and hated to kill them. But I did it anyway, even though I didn't like tomatoes. My father did. And in those days, we needed the food. My mom canned the tomatoes for making spaghetti and other treats I did like.
My father offered us children $5 if we would ever pick up a tomato and eat it like an apple. To the best of my knowledge, none of us ever did this. I like tomatoes in small quantities in my salads or in a sandwich, but not a whole big tomato. I had tomatoes in my gardens for years. My favorites were the cherry and sometimes grape tomatoes, delicious warmed by the sun and popped whole into my mouth to burst and squirt their warm sweet juices down my throat. Small tomatoes, not the large beefsteaks my father liked. One of my favorites where the coyote yellow cherry tomatoes I got from my friend Debbie Hutchison who got them from Dave the poet farmer. They were heritage tomatoes.
Besides the huge garden, we had fruit trees, apples, peaches, pears, cherries. We'd planted them all. My mom, of course, with me helping, put them away as canned fruit, as jellies, jams and preserves. One batch of pear jam was so pale we tried added green coloring to it. The results were spectacular and tasted great. We labeled the jars very carefully and placed them on the shelf, label side out" "Tomato-worm Jam."