What’s not to love? It’s summer in a bowl. Not Massachusetts summers, where corn-on-the-cob, clams and blueberry pies set the tone, but Spanish ones: spicy, flavorful, meeting the heat with a cooling sizzle. I was in middle school when a bowl of the stuff was first placed before me at lunch with my grandmother. I looked over the rim with dread: I hadn’t yet embraced the concept that vegetables might be a source of gastronomic pleasure. My grandmother waited for me to dip my spoon into the bowl of suspiciously vomit-like chunks. She perpetually needled me to lose my “baby fat,” which was so aggravating. Such a pointedly healthy menu item was bound to raise my hackles. “It’s like liquid salad,” she said, unhelpfully. Wait, it’s COLD? I thought. I had been silently working to convince myself that I liked ketchup, after all, and I liked Campbell’s cream of Tomato soup and spaghetti sauce, so maybe this tomato-y murk would turn out to be at least tolerable.
“Is there celery in it,” I asked, bile rising. I have lifelong celery-related PTSD after my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Ebbets, withheld chocolate pudding from my classmates because we are all going to wait for our dessert until HOLLY finishes her tuna salad. On my plate sat a mound of celery-studded, purplish, stinky, institutional grade tuna salad larger than a regulation softball. I was a gagger. Mrs. Ebbets didn’t care for my “theatrics.” Duly warned, she insisted I forge ahead with “personal fortitude.” About five mouthfuls in, fortitude failed me. I turned to my left and disgorged undigested tuna into Gib Chapman’s lap, beginning a chain reaction. We’ve lost touch since grade school, but perhaps Gib also suffers to this day from celery-induced trauma, his lovely wife wondering all these years why he blanches at the very mention of a Bloody Mary, the stalk garnish slashing though his equanimity, daring him not to regress to that awful day. He was always such a nice guy. I’m so sorry.
“No celery,” said my grandmother. “It’s healthy, dear, you should eat it.” She fixed me with a steely, matriarchal eye. I’d better just get on with it. Thankfully, this story does not also end with me blowing chunks. Salad soup was surprisingly okay. Perhaps this bowl of gazpacho was the dawning of my adult palette.
My grandmother looked on with a self-satisfied air. “If you ate more of that, you’d be thin as a rail,” she said, “like me.” Ugh.
Still, I have to thank her for the introduction. I now take deep delight in a good-sized bowl of “liquid salad.” For years, I’ve made my own gazpacho, experimenting with different recipes and textures, my kitchen strewn with tomato seeds and slivers of peeled tomato skin, smelling of August. A food processor or blender is overkill; it’s best when I work the ripe tomatoes through my fingers to get the consistency I like, crunchy-creamy. It’s mainstream now, so I just buy it. The health food store in Concord makes a “green gazpacho” that’s loaded with garlic and herbs – your gut feels instantly cleansed one spoonful in. The local farm-stand has a nice, classic version: blended, peppery and refreshing. I had a bowl for lunch today, nourishing me as I write. So good.