Thursday, August 25, 2005

Tomatoes, tomatoes

Finally the tomatoes are ripe. Before we were farming and trying to grow vegetables for money, I had a large garden; but everything else was just filler until the tomatoes were ripe.

This year, we planted hundreds of tomatoes—partly by design, partly because we started some in flats to sell as plants, sales of which didn’t really materialize, probably (probably!) because we didn’t advertise.

First the cherry tomatoes ripen. I read someone who compared them to relatives who visit from out of town. First, you’re happy to see them. You welcome them, you haven’t seen them in a long time, and you find all kinds of activities to involve them. Eventually, however, you’re tired of seeing them, you run out of things to do with them, and you wish they’d leave already.

We have hybrids, we have Romas, we have heirloom Brandywines (Nancy Nall: “Best. Tomato. Ever.”) And omething else that I thought was Brandywines, but maybe isn’t.

Some are sold at farmers’ markets, some at the stand at our house, some to restaurants (a new market for us this year—they are pretty excited about the Romas, which are very attractive and box up nicely). Some are given away to friends and the food pantry. The spoiled ones go to the chickens. We eat a lot, in various forms, but usually just sliced.

I preserve a lot: juice, whole, spaghetti sauce, salsa, dried. Juice is the easiest, and what I did yesterday. I have a conversion chart that says x pounds will make y quarts, but instead of doing the calculations, I just juiced up all the otherwise unallocated ones—we’ll have plenty before the next market Saturday. Not planning ahead meant I ended up washing more jars, then more.

Juicing is the easiest. Wash, core, cut out spots, cut up and heat till juicy (I guess if you have a good juicer you don’t even need to heat them), and squish them through the juicer. Juice and pulp come out through the screen, skin and seeds get pushed out the end. Run the pulp through a second time to extract even more goodness. Make sure you have lots of vats—for heating, for holding the juice, and finally for canning. 25 quarts in about 5 hours, mostly including clean up.

What’s the juice used for next winter? The most obvious answers are spaghetti and chili. Then I make a lot of what the family calls “gloppy gloopy” (from a song on the PBS show “Arthur”), and what others in the Midwest call “casserole.” Also for soup or just drinking straight. And, you can cook rice or noodles in tomato juice for extra flavor and nutrition.

Whole tomatoes are harder (messier) because you have to plop them in hot water then take the skins off, but easier because then you just stuff them (whole) in jars. Salsa is a complicated mixture of stuff, but I’ll have a partner for that. Sauce—eh, maybe I won’t make any this year—the hardest part is reducing the juice to something pretty thick. One year D set up a fairly crude but effective evaporator for me—a fan and deflector shield over the bubbling pot on the stove. Also effective: cooking overnight in the oven in an open roaster with the oven door cracked open.

None of this is fun when it’s 90 degrees outside and 88 in the kitchen, but we’ve had a couple cool(er) days this week. Fall is on its way—I saw sumac starting to turn red this week, the true sign of cooler temps and autumn. I have come to like fall more than I did the time I described it as “the season of death and decay.”


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