Summer’s Greatest Vegetable: Corn or Tomato?

Posted May 22, 2018 6:15 p.m. EDT

At first you think, no contest. Surely not even tomato’s botanical status as a fruit could disqualify it from the title of Greatest Summer Vegetable. A tomato is summer: gorged with sun, ridiculously voluptuous, drunk on stillness and time.

Its heft in the hand is a promise. It has grown fat from a life of leisure; maybe you could, too. Its skin catches the light like a balloon’s. Cut it open, and there’s a sigh. Inside are shadowy crevices, hoards of juice. You half eat, half drink it.

But — it feels like sacrilege to confess — I like tomatoes best in winter, whole San Marzanos from Italy in a can, their stores of sunshine breaking down into warm ragù. They bring a memory of brightness to the long dark.

Corn I eat only in summer. I have to wait for it, which makes me want it more. It is a communal waiting, family and friends scanning the farmers’ market and reporting back, “Not yet.” Then the first ears appear, plucked golden from the pot, followed by contemplative crunching and a slight shaking of heads. Not yet.

Patience is required, a surrender to the season. As the days pass, each haul is a little less stiff, a little juicier. And finally there is the corn I dream of all year, tasting of earth and sun as if the two could never be parted. Eating it is an animal business, all hands and teeth, mowing down the kernels row by row.

But there’s more to it than the devouring. One night as I debated with my husband (a tomato partisan), my 9-year-old daughter held up her hand. “Corn,” she said firmly. “Because it’s something you do together.”

I had forgotten the ceremony of shucking, husks falling to the floor like shrugged-off coats, strands of silk everywhere. Ice chimes in glasses and smoke storms off the grill. No one is in a hurry for dinner and when it comes, some of the most sophisticated people I know lunge across the table to roll their corn right through the stick of butter.

It’s summer, and there are no more rules. School’s out. Forever.