OK…I know…I’ve been M.I.A. So you ask, “Teresa, why have you not post a blog article for the past two months?!” The answer is I have been overwhelmed with house projects, my son was home from college all summer, and I’ve been busy canning! When the tomatoes arrive you must turn your attention to them or they will just rot! And I just can’t stand rotten tomatoes! What a waste!
Each spring I pull out my list from the previous year’s tomato purchases and read the notes that I have hand written in the margins. I write notes like, “Great tomato with large yield….weak plant with minimal yield…..sweet and meaty with big yield – buy again.” I rate the tomato plants too – 1 through 5 – 5 being my highest rating and a must to buy again. As I read my notes, I have this conversation with myself. “Sixteen tomato plants is just ridiculous for a family of three Teresa! Keep the quantity down to ten! Even that is too much. Remember each August how exasperated you get try to utilize and can all those tomatoes!” I even promise myself, “I promise I will buy no more than ten tomato plants this year!” Then I go with gleeful excitement to the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners’ Spring Plant Sale in April. I have the Tomato List printed off their website in my hot little hands. I have high-lighted the tomato varieties that I am going to buy. Stick to the list! Then I join my other tomato-crazed friends in line who arrived much earlier than I – gates opens at 9am. We excitedly discuss what we are going to buy. And I find I am already highlighting new plants that are my friends’ favorites. Oh my! This year I came home with twelve tomato plants! Oh well!
These tomatoes are from a new plant this year – the tomato variety is called Aker’s West Virginia. This plant matured to be very beautiful and healthy producing large fruit with high yield. The fruit was delicious, sweet, and the tomato was quite meaty. I rated this tomato a 5 and would definitely buy this plant again.
I have a canning buddy – my dear friend Martha. She doesn’t come to the Spring Plant Sale with me but we can all summer together. We start with jam – apricot jam, strawberry lemon verbena jam, four berry jam, Mission fig jam with orange peel, and savory tomato jam! Yum! When both of our gardens’ tomato plants begin to really ripen, then we shift into major over-drive. Tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, and tomato soup for cold winter days. This year we even made a 16 quart pot of ragu – a tomato based meat sauce. The pot gave us eighteen dinner servings of sauce which we individually put in tupperware and froze. Weekly our gardens produce a new large wave of ripe tomatoes. Canning happens weekly until it all comes to a close – sadly. But it is quite exciting to look into our pantries and see all the red jars lined up like soldiers just waiting for that next perfect recipe!
Canning anything is a complete labor of love. It is not economical, cost efficient, or time saving. It is not the essential labor of the summer’s bounty that it used to be 100 years ago when preserving your fruits and vegetable was a necessity to get through the winter to feed your family. No, now canning is a art form really. It is a way I spend creative time with my dear friend Martha who values quality food as much as I do. It is a way to make the best possible use out of the fruits and vegetables that I raise in my garden and purchase from farmers where I may prepare beautiful healthy and tasty food for my family. It is also a way I remember my roots – who I am and where I come from. As I have shared in past posts – my family was tomato packers. Some of my fondest childhood memories have tomatoes center stage. All I have to do is stew tomatoes, take a deep whiff of the pungent sweet smell, and the memories all come flooding back to me!
This year I made this french style tomato tart. I used a pizza dough recipe to start, which I brushed olive oil, scattered sautéed white onions on top, followed by sliced tomatoes, kalamata olives and herbs de provence. Bake in a hot oven. Delicious!
This is Panzanella Salad. Another one of my favorites! I have added kalamata olives, cucumber, feta, and chopped parsley to the recipe below. This time of year, I eat tomatoes for lunch every day and serve tomatoes every night for dinner – and I never get tired of them. I just love tomato time. All they need is salt and olive oil. I am already getting sad that the end of their production is starting…sigh.
Enjoy the last days of summer everyone! Enjoy all your tomatoes!
1/3 cup rd wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces stale Italian bread, cut into 2-inch pieces
8 cups (approx.) cold water
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (about 5 cups)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn into bite-size pieces
Pour vinegar into small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper. Place bread in large bowl. Pour in enough cold water to cover bread. Soak bread for 5 minutes. Drain well; squeeze bread to remove as much liquid as possible. Coarsely crumble bread into same bowl. Add tomatoes, onion and basil. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season salad generously with salt and pepper. Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand 1 hour to come to room temperature before serving.