F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Pickled Tomatoes

Rebecca Coffey

Rebecca Coffey


Early evening.
Casual wear.
A bender that began at noon the day before.



1. Having been invited to a garden in Montgomery, Alabama, pick an impossibly young tomato of unutterable beauty. Hold her to your ear and listen to her tell you, in all seriousness, that she is not like other newly ripened fruit. Rather, she has aspirations, and struggles against the nether hell of social expectation for a serious identity. Nod sagely as you listen. Pretend that you care and are rich. Think of her skin flushed, puckering.

2. Actually, for this recipe you’ll need more tomato than one. So look around. You’ll see many tomatoes. And those sweethearts dangle! Surely, these are the picks of the summer.

3. Silence the first tomato you picked by thoughtlessly dropping her into the pocket of your summer jacket. Then stride purposefully across the excellently crushable grass. Pick seven more.

4. Now go home and go directly to bed.

5. Up early! Work to do! But, ouch. Your head! Have a little hair of the dog, and ask the houseman to bring you more of the same along with poached eggs on toast, coffee, and a quart-sized mason jar. Touch the jar. Touch it again. Make it squeak in a slightly complaining way. Oh, baby!

6. Tell the houseman to sterilize the jar for 20 minutes.

7. It’s best, really, to wait until noon for your first non-dog-hair drink. That way, you see, the church bells sounding out the mid-day Angelus will resonate for you like the tuning fork of the universe. As will those tomatoes. You plucked eight last night, remember? Have the houseman bring ’round the entire bag, and send him away for an hour or two on some pretense of an errand.

8. Alone with your tomatoes at last, lock the door. Remove your clothes and underwear. Take from the bag the very first tomato you picked last night. Kiss her, thereby wedding your unutterable visions to her perishable plumpness. She might roll a bit on the counter. She might stretch her leaves lazily. Well, whoop! Now you’re on the trolley of life!

9. Grasping the tomato in both hands, feel a strange impulse overtake you. Later you will liken it to the strong, fast, free improvisation of horns riffing hard.

10. Squeeze the tomato atrociously.

11. In surprised horror, she will ask your intention. Whereupon you must relax your grip and assure her of your tolerance and honor.

12. Then, realizing that both your tolerance and honor have limits, squeeze even harder. The growth of intimacy is like that.

13. Yes! She will burst! So be sure to hold her over the sterilized jar!

14. Tomatoes lead short, tragic lives.

15. Breathing heavily, cap the jar and notice that life already feels different, but not necessarily in a good way.

16. Granted, that tomato was ruined even before you squished her. In the previous night’s picking the freshest and best part of her was lost.

17. Quickly, lest your afternoon begin to feel like one gigantic aftermath, sit at your writing table and describe your romantic relationships in a way that is heartbreaking and poetic. Then have your tea downtown, and take dinner there, too. Amidst this activity, do not forget the other seven tomatoes. That quart jar wants filling.

18. Late that night when you return to your kitchen, turn the light on and again remove your clothes and underwear. Then repeat steps 8-13 seven times. Neither complain nor falter. Move instead as a boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past but straining ever more ardently to reach the befogged and surly present. Be like Hemingway. Beat on.

19. Right around the sixth or seventh occasion of step 13, find it mildly amusing that the tomatoes are of no help to each other in their predicament. They never even ask each others’ names.

20. When the struggle is finally over, add to the jar of tomatoes some well-boiled sugar (2-1/2 cups), salt (not terribly much), and 1/3 cup vinegar along with horseradish, dill, and a few cloves of garlic. Then top off the jar with boiled water. Cap it very tightly this time.

21. Take a moment to appreciate that both beauty and Hollywood are more compelling when kept at a remove.

22. As an exercise in irony, cover the jar with a blanket for the remainder of the night. When you awaken, put it in the icebox. You may serve the tomatoes with (or to) anything that glitters.

23. Oh, damn! Juice, seeds, and sticky sugar water are all over your kitchen floor! You poor son of a bitch.

24. Ah, leave it. Other people clean up your messes.


Rebecca Coffey’s short fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Rumpus, and a large handful of other literary magazines. Her short nonfiction is regularly featured in Discover Magazine, where she is a frequent contributor to the “20 Things” column, mixing science and light humor. Coffey is also a commentator on Vermont Public Radio.


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