Monday, September 03, 2007

Tomatoes at last!

Oh, there had been a ripe tomato or two in early August, along with a basket of cherry tomatoes. But never enough to bother making pasta for. The harvest finally got going with a bang at the end of August. Now I am tripping over baskets of tomatoes in my kitchen--red ones, yellow ones, orange-and-red striped ones, round ones, pointy ones, squashed ones with many fantastic lobes, like brains. Tomatoes that show a pattern of red and yellow rays when you slice them. Tomatoes that are almost purple inside. Tomatoes five inches across. Really the loveliest tomatoes I've ever been blessed with; the photo doesn't even come close to doing them justice.

Meanwhile, the vines outside are groaning under the weight of more bounty. One cubic foot of vine has 15 tomatoes in it. Where earlier it was, "Is it ripe? We'll say it's ripe enough," now it's "Can these stay on the vine a little longer without disintegrating? We'll say they can."

I've made tomato juice, tomato soup, lots of Vitamix sauces with tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots and a host of whatever else is available. This morning we had tomatoes and the one eggplant with garbanzo beans and rice. Tasty. I've hauled out my pasta maker and whipped up bunches of pasta to serve as a vehicle for shoveling more tomatoes into my mouth. Another thing we've done is sliced the tomatoes up in a little balsamic vinegar, garlic and basil and later piled the marinated tomatoes on cheese sandwiches.

I can say this is a local meal, sort of, since the bread is homemade. The wheat, however, is from got knows where--no one grows wheat in California.

Now if the tomatillos would only hurry up. They've never been so late as this year.

Apples and green beans are piling up. Here's one day's harvest--enough green beans for a generous meal, a few more tomatoes, and a dozen or so apples. Most of my apples tend to go to waste because each one of them has its own resident codling moth larva. But for some reason, there were many bug-free apples this year.

By a stroke of serendipity, I acquired a small juicer for $5 at a garage sale. I'm not a big apple eater, but I love the fresh juice. So...I gathered all the apples--even the ones that had fallen on the ground and gotten bruised or sun-scalded, and made apple juice that is beyond description, thick, creamy, exploding with flavor. Apple juice you have to drink up in short order, because it's not pasteurized or frozen or preserved in any other way. And on a hot summer day, this is not a chore.

I buy carrots in large Costco-sized quantities because they keep a long time and I like to add one to the soup. But the collection in my vegetable bin was beginning to look a little shriveled. No problem! I turned a bunch of them into delicious juice. Why is it that carrots are kind of a ho-hum vegetable, but the fresh juice is divine (and the canned stuff so awful)?

This was a bumper year for nectarines. There must have been at least a hundred on our little tree--which produced basically zero nectarines last year. They are small ones with big seeds--probably because of deficient watering--but very concentrated in flavor. After wondering what to do with the baskets of them, I hit on the idea of drying them in the solar oven, leaving the glass top off so it wouldn't get too hot. The first batch got a little over-heated and acquired a delightfully toasted flavor, like peach cobbler. The next batch was a little moister and just as good.

I've started harvesting winter squash. Two of them are curing on my back porch now. I'm letting some of the beans go to seed for next year, and getting ready to plant onions and garlic, broccoli and spinach. I have cilantro started in a pot on the porch and under the tomatoes. Is there any way to preserve fresh basil for the winter? If so, dear non-existent reader, please let me know.

My only heartbreak, one that I experience nearly every year, is the usual pepper crop failure. This is a serious problem, because the ones I like aren't available in the stores and nurseries.

I like to make salsa verde, which requires poblano chiles, tomatillos and cilantro. Every year, I manage to have two of the three ingredients, but never all three.

I know it's not just my garden location, because one year I had baskets full of my favorite peppers--poblanos and pimentos. Unfortunately, that was the year that the tomatillos didn't do too well.

This year, I can't find the poblanos even in the farmers markets. It seems no one has peppers to sell. Why that is, I don't know. It's been a dry year, but that doesn't explain it. Summer has been a bit cool until the last two weeks, when it's been decidedly hot.

Another perennial crop failure is spinach. Now, Steve eats a LOT of spinach. I'd like not to have to go to Safeway or Costco and buy those 4-pound bags every week. But I've gotten precious little spinach out of my garden so far. Well, I'm going to try again. This time I'll try planting it while it's still warm and dry, so the slugs and pillbugs don't get them all, and hope it cools off before they bolt.

You know, I'm not getting nearly enough done of the other stuff I have to do, because of all this produce growing and processing, but what is life for if not to grow food and eat it?

Okay, I have to go check the bread in the solar oven.

Next: Summer of Love photos.

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