MaMa’s Tomatoes

As I think about all the people who have had an impact on my life (and there are many!) I often think about my paternal grandmother, known to many as “MaMa”. My first entry in this blog was about a long ago thanksgiving dinner and an experience that I often think back on today. The entry is entitled “Legacy”, go and take a look if you have a second.

Well MaMa was not only an influential person to me an many, she was also a wonderful cook and gardener. Over the years I enjoyed many meals at her table, often laden with homemade rolls, deviled eggs, southern pole beans, and if in season, fresh tomatoes from her garden. One variety that she raised over the years was some sort of yellow tomato that when ripe, took on pink stripes. She would save the seed year to year and over the years, those seeds were passed to my father , my brother and me to propagate season to season. Not of us are certain when MaMa started raising these tomatoes but my father remembers them from when he was young and he was born on 1930.

I have planted those tomatoes in various gardens and cities over the years and have shared the seeds with friends across the country and across the world. Recently I taught a module in my son’s 5th grade class focused on family/history/ and botany. We took the seeds that I had saved from last season, planted them into “mini greenhouses” and watched the process of germination up-close. After a few weeks we thinned the seedlings and finally after enough growth, we transplanted the seeds into little pots and all the students (and the teachers) had at least one tomato plant to take home and plant in their own gardens. It was something special for me on my last day in the classroom to see a picture of my grandmother posted on the wall. It made me smile to think of MaMa and all the things she has passed along to so many over the years, including a class of 5th graders in Atlanta!

My lesson from this experience is that we are all affected by many important people in our lives. Whether a parent, a spouse, a boss, a friend, an aunt or a grandmother, we have all learned many “lessons of life” from those that have meant the most to us. My encouragement is to try to find ways to be “generous” with those lessons to others in our lives. Find opportunities to share a story, pass along a recipe, or maybe a few tomato seeds, and in the process continue the chain of finding and sharing ways to make this life better for all!

Below is the prep-sheet that I used with the 5th graders recently, take a look!

Mama’s “Old Stripers”
I have enclosed a precious treasure of my family; seeds from
a variety of tomato that has been passed down in my family
for decades. Before the idea of “heirloom tomatoes”
became fashionable in the “foodie” circles of America, my
grandmother was raising tomatoes in her garden and saving
the seeds one season to the next. Over the years, the seeds
were passed to my father, my brother, and ultimately onto
me where I have enjoyed keeping the tradition alive over the
past decade or so.

My grandmother, Lakie Pearl Hill Livesay (yes, that’s the
right spelling for HER last name, more on that unusual
wrinkle at another time), daughter of W. Bryson Hill, was
from a very small town in the hills of Pocahontas county
West Virginia and always kept a great garden. While she
raised and canned a wide variety of fruits and vegetables,
her tomatoes were always standouts and specifically this
unusual variety that she called her “old stripers”. As a boy
and as a young man I have strong memories of visiting my
grandmother at her home in White Sulphur Springs W.Va.
and enjoying delicious meals made from a number of items
from her garden, always including fresh tomatoes when in season.

These tomatoes are a bit unusual since they are actually
yellow tomatoes (when ripe actually more orange than
yellow) and they sometimes take on pink stripes on their
ridges. Remember, these aren’t a modern hybrid so they will
cross-pollinate with surrounding tomatoes so do your best to
keep some separation. Also, they are “indeterminate” so
they will grow and vine to extraordinary lengths so keep
some 6 foot+ tomato stakes handy.

I usually start the seeds indoors 2 months or so before the
last frost date and get them in the ground soon after that
time. I hope you have success in growing these tomatoes
and please share some of the seeds with your friends and
family, MaMa would like it that way!