Let me tell you about this dinner I just made. I had these cherry tomatoes that I had other plans for late last week (plans that I can no longer recall), but there they were still, so I wanted to use them up. I thought of the simplest tomato sauce I know. No, not this one, which is of course my favorite and which will, if you make it, delight you for the rest of your days. No, the one I thought of just involved heating up olive oil in a pot, tossing in the cherry tomatoes, and waiting until they eventually all burst and turned into the very sauce you didn’t realize you were making. I threw in some arugula at the end and some pasta water to thin it out (for some reason I have made what seems like a million recipes that tell you to reserve a cup of pasta water, which now comes naturally to me) and I am not going to lie: it was perfect. Just this simple delicious tomato sauce. I tossed it with some orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta, which is loved in my house) and served it for dinner.
I watched my girls glumly stab at each ear-shaped pasta, very careful to avoid anything that had once been a tomato. I would not be undone. I think this is delicious! I exclaimed. (Seriously, it was.)
My older daughter (14) sighed and said, I bet it’s good. It’s just that I don’t like tomatoes and I’m pretty sure I’m never going to like them.
And my younger daughter (11) added, I might like them at some point, but not now.
How has this happened? Seriously, there are so many foods in the world to dislike. How could they both end up disliking something so basic? I have been serving them tomatoes their whole lives (not as often as I’d like, believe me) just to see if this terrible habit of theirs will go away. I am much more tolerant of some of their other food dislikes (my younger daughter is famous for her hatred of bananas), but for some reason this one completely throws me.
In fact, I was going to say that I didn’t know not liking tomatoes was a thing when I suddenly remembered that I had, in fact, known about this. Many years ago, when I was about 8 or 9, I spent some time (a week?) at my stepfather’s mother’s house in Brooklyn. She served salad with dinner every night, but I noticed that she always sliced tomatoes and put them into everyone’s salad but her own. Finally I asked her about it and she told me she didn’t like tomatoes. Then she clarified, Well, I’ve never actually tried them but a long time ago I decided that I wouldn’t like them and so I’ve never had tomatoes.
Never had a tomato. This completely astonished me. I tried to picture her as a child, back in the 1920s perhaps, when clearly no one was tolerant of picky eaters. Somehow during this more intolerant era (as I imagined it) she had decided that tomatoes were not for her. How did she get away with this? Wasn’t she even curious? This was something that both fascinated and angered me. It struck me as unbelievably close-minded. Plus, of course, it was so wrong. I couldn’t imagine not liking tomatoes. Whenever I’ve had a garden (or access to one), I’d pick them right off the vine and eat them like apples. And even if you weren’t a fan of raw tomatoes (which maybe is forgivable), how could you live without eating tomato sauce? I’m realizing right now (with horror) that it’s quite conceivable that my stepfather’s mother, born and raised and, at the time of this memory, still living in Brooklyn, never had pizza.
I need to move on from this, clearly.
Here’s all you need to know about the recorded history of tomatoes, by the way: “The recorded history of tomatoes in Italy dates back to 31 October 1548 when the house steward of Cosimo de’ Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, wrote to the Medici private secretary informing him that the basket of tomatoes sent from the grand duke’s Florentine estate at Torre del Gallo ‘had arrived safely.’”
As for my own children, who, I should point out, love pizza, which is a great relief to me (though I think if there were a substitute for the sauce they’d prefer that), their open intolerance of tomatoes proves to me that some things simply cannot be passed down. Somehow, through nature or through nurture, our children will have their own preferences. For food, for books, for music, et cetera. And as parents, I guess our actual job is simply to guide them along. Really, we just want them to arrive safely.