By Todd Schafer
It was July 2002 and Bill Jones’ carport was once again filled with bounty from his massive garden. The tomatoes had just been picked that afternoon. He grew many different summer veggies but the tomatoes, with names like Jaune Flame, Abe Lincoln and Riesentraube, made him famous.
Business was always brisk, and Bill was usually in the carport in the late afternoon, after a long day of tending, watering and weeding, talking to friends and customers alike that came for his wonderful tomatoes.
When he wasn’t there, his stand was on the honor system. There was an ancient hanging scale, and a plastic box for a cash register. When I saw that, I couldn’t get over it. Who does that, I thought. After getting to know him, it made sense. He loved what he was doing. The money was just a bonus.
That first summer, I bought over 500 pounds of tomatoes to use at the restaurant, and we peeled every one of them. His house was only about a mile from the Bistro, and I spent many an afternoon in the garden, thinking up specials for dinner service that night as I picked
We transformed baby yellow flame tomatoes, cream and extra virgin olive oil into the most wonderful cold soup. We made a salad with three or four different types of baby tomatoes with white truffle oil vinaigrette and baby herbs. We peeled baby tomatoes and dried them on the rooftop, turning them into sundried tomatoes as sweet as candy. What made these dishes great wasn’t as much as how we prepared them, but rather the incredible flavor of the tomatoes he grew.
It was Bill Jones who inspired me to grow my own produce, and to seek out the best local ingredients available. My love of gardening is, in part, because of him. When Bill died, his family kept up the garden for a couple of years until the Augusta National bought his house and so many others around it and turned it into a giant parking lot. Not having any more of Jones’ tomatoes spurred me to put in my own garden for the restaurant. Bill’s grandson, David, helped me with the tiller, the tractor and all the logistics of building a large garden.
That summer I spent an obscene amount of money on dirt, irrigation and 12 new toilets for The Vue (but that is another story).
What I learned from that experience is, one, use a licensed plumber instead of a buddy who says he knows about sprinklers, and, two, there is no substitute for locally grown produce.
What I learned from Jones is that, for him, it was more than just growing vegetables. It was about family, community and fellowship with his neighbors.
While working in my own garden, my thoughts sometimes turn those great days of summer and the garden on Heath and Wicklow, and I know that he was right.
Todd is the owner of Abel Brown’s Southern Kitchen in Surrey Center. He formerly owned Bistro 491 in the same location.
491 Highland Ave