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Tomato Tales, Part 3

November 20, 2010

It’s late in the year for a tomato post. The tomato season has been over for weeks.

And yet, I only just pulled up the tomato plants on the balcony this week. I never really had time to do that before, just as I haven’t had time to write this post that I’ve had planned for so long!

But they weren’t even looking so bad. Sure, the plants were quite thoroughly dead, but they one of them, the red currant tomato, was still full of fruits. The red currants have been tasting disgustingly bitter for most of the summer – I still don’t know if this had to do with the variety, or with some mistake I made in watering or feeding, or if it was due to the bugs they had – so I never bothered to pick them. Couldn’t eat them anyway. But they looked nice. I never got a really good picture of them – half of the rippled glass pane at the side of the balcony covered in bright red ‘berries’.

I like the currant tomatoes’ growth habit, the way they’ll climb all over the place. My own plants, half-starved and constantly thirsty in their pots, not so much –

– but the ones at the farm where I bought my vegetables all summer long, those were going crazy.

It’s made me realize why in English, the expression is ‘tomato vine’. We don’t call them ‘vines’ in German. You’d use the generic ‘Pflanze’ (plant), or maybe ‘Staude’ (which is correctly defined as ‘herbaceous perennial’, but often used for ‘shrub’, too).  But never ‘vine’.

Which has made me wonder… if you’re used to tomato plants being referred to as ‘vine’, would it change your idea of what a tomato plant is supposed to look like? Is it easier for native English speakers to accept that tomatoes can also do this:

Yellow currant tomatoes at the farm

climbing all over the place, and utterly unable to support themselves?

Because what I – and all the people I know, my customers definitely included, expect something more like this:

Ignore the fact that the plant looks ugly – it’s not been a good year for tomatoes. What I want to show is the growth habit – stiffly upright, one thick stem – which does need support, but we like our tomato ‘Stauden’ to look like they don’t need it. Anything even remotely vine-like is absolutely undesirable – ‘You expect me to buy that skinny, leggy thing?!’ I might have been like that when I was younger – but now that I think in English quite a lot, I just think, ‘ah well, it’s a tomato vine.‘ And wonder how native English speakers would think about it.

Ah, the odd thoughts that are born of thinking in two languages.


In other news, I got myself a new computer – my first laptop, too. The internet is still not working as it should, but at least I can post from my own computer and more importantly, from my own room, again. The Carpenter Brother’s room is jus too uncomfortable to concentrate.

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