BOSTON -- Let me admit right off the bat that my offspring are not perfect. How many people will say that in public?
Take the two before me, both thoroughly mature. I must confess that their shape and complexion are just a bit off. They bear some scars, a bit of discoloration. They are a touch misshapen and carry internal marks of a genetic background that is, well, anomalous.
But when you are in the tomato-raising business, looks aren't everything. Taste is everything. These are my Big Boys. They are real tomatoes. The luscious natives of my sixteenth-acre, watched over, waited for, picked in their prime, about to be devoured.
Years ago, when I first planted a garden, I brought forth from the reluctant urban soil a much wider variety of species. I cared for an entire nursery of eggplants, green peppers, lettuce, snap peas, green beans. I had my successes and failures in this venture.
But two years ago, it occurred to me that all I really wanted anymore were tomatoes. And more tomatoes. This being the era of reproductive targeting, I decided to get what I wanted. I went back to basics and Big Boys, not to mention Beefsteaks.
Now I spend my late-summer weeks harvesting and devouring the only fruit that you salt, the once-designated ''love apple,'' the crop that Thomas Jefferson introduced to America: the glorious tomato. The kind that actually smells like a tomato. For some six weeks, I become the abominable tomato glutton.
Yet when this orgy ends, I shall again retreat, and just as abruptly, to my winter policy of tomato abstinence. A committed cultivator of the real thing, I have come to regard unseasonable and migrant tomatoes -- ''their'' tomatoes -- the way our forefathers once regarded the entire species: as inedible; possibly poisonous, at least to the soul.
I do not wish to regale you with the entire and tragic history of tomato production -- manufacture is a better word -- in America. We all know how the innocent Lycopersicon esculentum has had its hide toughened, how it has been pushed around, squared, even gassed to death.
But every year the tomato becomes less of a fruit and more of a metaphor for our dissatisfaction with limits. Our consumer impatience is such that we regard seasons as nothing more than an arbitrary barrier to overcome. We have come to expect, to demand, year-round, uniform access to the things we like.
The marketplace whets and fills this demand. The agribusiness moguls end up spending enormous time and energy in order to create and distribute a strain of corn suitable for starching shirts, a cantaloupe useful for bowling and an entire orange shot put collection. We have more and more fruits and vegetables whose only claim to life is their shelf life.
The desire to shatter the seasonal barrier doesn't affect just edibles and inedibles. It is the assumption behind Yuletide decorations in Key West and tanning salons in Burlington, Vt., not to mention that ultimate aberration, football in August. In Miami.
My ultimate out-of-season experience, the sort of parapsychology trip that people write about, occurred in an air-conditioned shopping mall on a humid day in Houston. There, this New Englander stood transfixed watching people in shorts and halters going around and around an ice-skating rink.
As for tomatoes -- the fruit, not the metaphor -- I am grateful for the failure of agribusiness to market a palatable winter variety of the species. The tomato is not a fruit for all seasons but that rarity of modern life: something rooted in its natural space, a back yard on a warm August afternoon.
So today, looking at my slightly flawed crop, I renew my pledge: I shall eat no tomato before (or after) its time. How nice that its time is now. Come here, Big Boys.