Camp Memories and Tomatoes

The success of summer can be measured by the quantity of two wholly independent variables: camp memories and tomatoes.

You say tomato, I say yum!

Camp memories are indelible, etched on our souls and in our psyches by dynamic connections forged through laughter and friendship, relationships with a person, a time, and an event that cannot be replicated no matter how one might try.

Tomatoes? They reproduce easily, requiring only sun, soil, water, and time—in no particular order—to turn from seedling to vegetable (or fruit, however you see it), to transform that brilliant July sunlight and those cool August mornings into a tangible, physical, delicious incarnation of the sun itself.

The gloss of camp memories dulls with time, but, like an old friend, the tomato returns annually.

There’s a simple, understated beauty in ambling through morning dew-damp grass, before the sun rises too high, to pluck a brilliant red tomato from the vine at that perfect time when it brings with it a tiny crown of leaves.

There’s a weight, an undeniable presence of the tomato’s scarlet against your open palm, that begs to be eaten at that moment, while you stand there, barefoot in the garden, cool soil squeezing between your toes.

Like camp memories, tomatoes can be shared. Unlike camp memories, tomatoes can be shared anonymously in giant paper sacks on the table in the office kitchen, warmed from a windowsill, over the backyard fence, and with complete strangers.

Tuck away your mementos and back up your digital photos of this year’s camping season to pull out on those long, winter days when sunshine and camp games are but echoes whispering in your mind.

In the meantime, go pick those tomatoes you’ve been eyeing and make one of my recipes here to share with someone special.

Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo translates from Spanish into English as “beak of the rooster.” Often confused with salsa, which has a base of liquefied, often cooked, tomatoes, Pico de Gallo is one of the most refreshing ways to serve tomatoes. Add salt last, as it pulls water from the tomatoes. Pico de Gallo is just as delicious on day two. Serve with tortilla chips, tacos, baked potatoes…for starters.

6 medium tomatoes, diced

1/2 red onion, minced

1/2 small jalapeno, minced, if desired

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro (a handful), finely chopped

Cracked black pepper, to taste

Kosher salt, to taste

In a medium bowl, mix tomatoes, onion and cilantro well. Add cracked black pepper and salt to taste. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Tomato Salad

Sometimes, I just want a giant bowl of fresh summer vegetables to accompany grilled chicken or for a light supper with a loaf of crusty, grilled garlic bread. This is perfect, and stores well.

6 medium tomatoes, quartered (or halved and quartered, if you like smaller pieces)

8-10 large, fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons

2-3 ears cooked sweet corn, cut off cob

2T olive oil

2T balsamic vinegar

Cracked black pepper, to taste

Kosher salt, to taste

Mix tomatoes, basil leaves and corn in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss lightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For a delicious twist, grill the corn.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

There’s a magical process that takes place when cherry tomatoes are roasted. Their sugar intensifies and their sweetness literally pops in your mouth. (Yes, I know it isn’t magic; it’s chemistry. It’s still delicious.)

2C cherry tomatoes

2T olive oil

Cracked black pepper, to taste

Kosher salt, to taste

You can roast in one of two ways:

In a skillet, over medium-high heat. In a pan, heat tomatoes and olive oil until the tomatoes begin to burst open and their skins begin to char. Shake the pan often to avoid burning the tomatoes. Remove from heat and season with pepper and salt to taste. Serve hot or warm.

In the oven, preheat oven to 400F. Layer tomatoes on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil and season with pepper and salt. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until soft. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Beth Morrow is an educator, author and co-program director for Camp Hamwi, a residential camp for youth with diabetes. She is also an avid gardener and believes in the value of sharing meals with friends and strangers alike. Reach her at