Above image is the July entry from the 2008 You Grow Girl Calendar
I LOVE tomatoes. If I had to give up growing all other crops and choose just one I would probably choose tomatoes although basil would follow as a close second. Who can imagine tomatoes without basil?
Don’t make me choose.
Tomatoes aren’t the easiest food plant to grow but they are the most rewarding. No homegrown vegetable tastes, looks, and feels more radically different to its grocery store counterpart. That watery, anemic thing isn’t a tomato, it’s an impostor, and a bad one at that.
I love the challenge in growing tomatoes. The learning about this single crop type is endless. Every variety is different from the 6 feet (plus plus) tall indeterminates to teeny little potted plants. The leaves and shapes are different, their wants and needs are varied, and their disease and pest resistance can shift radically from plant to plant. And then there’s the weather. What thrives and grows abundantly one year can melt into a pile the next. Finding more water during a drought is hard enough, but how exactly do you take it away during a flood year? My region has already far surpassed all the records for summer rainfall and the summer isn’t even over yet. If you’ve ever experienced frustration and loss as a tomato gardener do not give up. Who knows what next year will bring? That next variety might be the one that kicks ass in your growing conditions. The one thing a gardener can never control or really predict is the weather. How amazing would it be if we could? But then I wonder how interesting gardening would be if we knew exactly what was going to happen and what to do about it beforehand.
A clump of ‘Purple Calabash’ tomatoes harvested just yesterday!
A gardener could focus their entire life on just the tomato and still live a very full and varied experience. I constantly long for the space to toss in 100 varieties or more in one year and just immerse myself in it completely. Still, I try with my little roof garden and community plot, slowly inching my way through the lists of inspiring varieties one plant at a time. I had to cut back this year to give my soil a break. It’s a bummer but has made me all that much more appreciative of the plants I do have, most especially the few that have pushed on through the excess rain to bring me my first sweet, ripe lovelies.
Tomatoes are beginning to ripen in both of my food gardens which means I am indulging in all of my favourite tomato recipes. I prefer to make tomatoes the star of the show rather than hiding them in among other overpowering ingredients so as soon as the first tomatoes were ready I dove straight into the two dishes I crave most during the off months of the year: Roasted Tomato Soup and Fried Egg Sandwich. (I cooked and ate one for lunch midway through writing this post!) The egg sandwich is as simple as frying two eggs any way you like them with a light spread of mayo and a couple of leaves of fresh basil. Add a little salt to taste. My newest love is Caprese Salad. I took up cheese making last year just so I could have really fresh delicious cheese with it. When the plants really start producing I’ll be making Roasted Tomato Sauce and Blackened Ranchero Salsa and then canning for winter usage. Yum.
Amazing that this is where it all begins. This is the ‘Purple Calabash’ shortly after germinating.
This post is a part of Away to Garden and Dinner Tonight’s Tomato Week Fest 2008.
- Homesteading — the kind that involved living in tents and no machinery — was terribly difficult. I’m sure of it. Of course I already knew this, camping merely drove that point home in a new way. Simple tasks take longer, requiring more planning.
Who wants tea? Well, first you’ve got to make a fire. This might require collecting wood. It will also require making flames first thing in the morning when you are still half asleep. Then you’ve got to wait an eternity for that fire to get hot. Then you’ve got to wait another absurd length of time for the water to heat up. You will probably give up and settle for a lukewarm beverage, if you can wait that long. If there is one thing I hate to go without it is my morning genmaicha. Some campers look forward to that first indulgent post-camping meal. My favorite post-camping experience came the next morning when I got up to make my morning tea. The whole thing was accomplished in minutes with a mere flick of a button. No dangerous half-asleep fire starting required.
- Here’s something you should know before setting out to camp in the wilderness. There are these little insects called Deer Flies. They look an awful lot like regular flies with one exception: regular flies are annoying but basically harmless, while deer flies slice off chunks of your flesh using their special slicing mouth parts. I am convinced that they are collecting human meat for Satan. There is no other explanation. After suffering through five days of their menace, mosquitoes are beginning to look downright civil, polite even. Sure they leave a bump that itches for days and days but by god deer flies have left an indelible scar on my psyche that no ointment will ever heal.
- Note for the future: Do not allow me to camp with small children. Not because camping is hard (except that it is) but because when faced with legions of biting insects, strong winds, and four hours of arm-breaking canoing I am unable to prevent the steady stream of elaborate cursing that will inevitably come pouring from my mouth. Please, think of the children.
The best way to learn what makes a plant tick is to see it growing in the wild. I consistently glean a lot of knowledge from these experiences. This trip taught me tons about blackberries and blueberries. Both were in season and both were easily found just about anywhere we went. Blackberries were always fully exposed, growing where the sun shone brightly and the soil was poor or non-existent. Sometimes it grew in the sand right at the water’s edge or in open meadows sitting alongside wetlands. Blueberries tended to be underneath the shade of larger coniferous trees or just on the edge of forests. They were always found among the low, sprawling juniper bushes.
Blackberries growing out of a rock.
Check out the view behind me.
Wild Blueberries. Tasty and FREE! Foraging makes me feel like I’ve scored the most awesome deal in town. Sure I have to do the work but still…. FREE. Picking them by hand has given me a whole new appreciation for the price of a pint of wild blueberries.
Picking Blueberries. Note the coniferous trees both big and small. The ground was basically granite and pine needles.
- Here’s a tasty camp dessert that I made up on the spot utilizing our foraged berries and provisions we had on hand. Add some sugar and fruit juice to a bowl of wild berries. Break up a few slices of bread into small chunks and add to the mix. Set it aside for 30 minutes or so allowing the bread to soak up the juices. Wrap it all up in foil and set over the fire to cook for about 15 minutes. Enjoy. Go ahead and lick the foil but try to avoid cutting your tongue.
Making foraged wild berry dessert. I look high here but I promise you the only thing I inhaled on this trip was fresh, super oxygenated air. And a lot of campfire smoke. I like to make fires so fire-starter was my self-appointed role.
- Camping in the rain is another kind of tricky. Have to go to the bathroom outdoors in the rain? Try to hold it in. That’s all I have to say about that.
- I have a lot to learn about plants. And mushrooms… forget about it. Better to assume they are all poisonous.
- Camping is a reminder of how easy we have it, a demonstration in the excesses in our modern lives that we can probably do without. I learned that baking soda really is the miracle powder. You can use it to scrub dishes, wash hair, brush teeth, and remedy bee stings. It really doesn’t taste that bad when used as toothpaste.
- I can tolerate all manner of dry, bland food when forced. Being surrounded by beautiful landscape makes everything go down easier.
I took these pictures while foraging for blackberries just around the corner from our campsite in Massassauga Provincial Park. The park is a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve. The second biosphere I have visited this year!
That smush on the right Polaroid is the remains of an unfortunate mosquito. I like nature, I really do. But feast on my blood and the love fest is over. I do not hold hands with blood suckers.
I have a longer post about my trip to Columbus, Ohio coming up but until then a station break about cherry season. It’s on! While I was away Davin went cherry picking just for me, bringing home a giant basket of fresh deliciousness. Picking that basket was preceded by a 13 km hike. What a guy.
Of course within a matter of days what initially felt like a windfall has dwindled in my minds eye. Need. More. Cherries. I stopped by one of our local farmers markets to grab a snack on the way home the other day. One of the farmers was selling baskets of cherries and even though I had that giant basket at home, I actually considered buying another. Or two. The only thing that held me back was the knowledge that our freezer is currently stuffed to the gills with frozen strawberries with not an inch of space left for anything more.
Note to self: Eat strawberries, stat.
In preparation for cherry season I have been dreaming about the things I will make when the time arrives. Now that it has, the pressure is on to use those precious cherries wisely. Last night I rolled out Cherry Season 2008 with a show stopping dish, Cherry Clafoutis aka Clafouti. If you’ve never had this French dessert it’s basically fresh fruit baked in an eggy, custard-like batter or pudding. I used this recipe as a starting point with a few revisions (I don’t think I have followed a recipe verbatim in my entire life). It was high on the egg side but very tasty. I substituted sugar with agave syrup and added a drop or two of amaretto extract because I didn’t have almond extract on hand. I thought about trying the recipe with almond milk but used the last of it in a smoothie made earlier that day. I did add little pats of butter and a sprinkling of maple sugar before broiling but to be honest I don’t think either was necessary and made the dish sweeter than I’d like.
All-in-all the clafoutis was REALLY good but I have my sights set on making one with a dough base. The base will add some additional weight to the dish and compliment the soft custard. If anyone has a recipe like that please share! I haven’t yet determined if I should cook the dough slightly before adding the custard or just plop it all in the dish. Either way I guess I’ll have a tasty time working it out.
If you haven’t made a dessert like this before and are intimidated, don’t be! Prep was done in a blender and took only a few minutes. From there the only stress was watching the oven to be sure it didn’t overcook on the bottom. And that’s what egg timers were made for.
You’ll love it!
I was invited to an apartment warming at my brother’s newish place the other night and since I had already treated him to a whole new garden, hereby known as “The Gift That Covers Me Off for Gift Giving Until 2010,” I decided I wanted to bring something but that that something should be simple and not cost money. The great thing about gardening, beyond the thousands of other more important reasons, is that there is always something available last-minute to gift to friends. I can just step outside and find homegrown edibles or flowers in a pinch that just about anyone will appreciate.
After all, who doesn’t like homegrown food or flowers? Granted, I’m sure if we looked hard enough we could find one or two out there in America but still…
As I was saying, a gift was in order. A gift that says, “Congratulations on your new apartment! Here’s something nice and useful to commemorate a meaningful life step but, you know, you’re my brother and dude, until I get a higher paying job or miraculously unearth a winning scratch ticket buried in the street garden… enjoy some quality homegrown herbs and edible delights.” Of course, I’m saying that cynically because in truth a winning scratch ticket would not change my desire to share the homegrown goodness. I’d just wrap it all in fresh, crisp hundred dollar bills.
And that is what I did (minus the cash money). My brother has been speaking highly of his new herb garden and all of the delicious herbed omelets he has been enjoying however I knew his plants were still small and were probably strained by enthusiastic and vigorous picking. My plants on the other hand are all well-established. I am actually over-run this year with sage, oregano and marjoram. I have been making herbal bouquets for myself for some time now and it only made sense to harvest a selection of yummy herbs, tie it up like a floral bouquet and give it as a gift. Flowers are nice but this bouquet keeps on giving. What’s more my bouquet was literally free since the butcher paper and twine was recycled from the packaging used to wrap flowers bought at the market. Yes, I have become my grandmother, holding onto every last scrap of packaging in hope of a possible future use.
The bouquet I made for my brother is not the one depicted. That one included garlic scapes I had picked just that day, as well as a selection of assorted thyme varieties and large sprigs of fresh rosemary. The gift was a surprise hit with party goers wondering about that twisted oddity (garlic scapes) poking out of the bundle. I’m sure if my bouquet had included homegrown herbs of another sort I would have made a lot of new friends fast… however it did not and the love fest lasted a total of 10 minutes.
If you make your own, choose whatever you’ve got on hand or try for herbs that compliment one another. Help the recipient unwrap the package as soon as possible and get the herbs into water so that anything that has wilted can be revived. This is also your chance to talk about the herbs so your friend knows a garlic scape from a frightening alien life form and how they can use them in their next meal.