Archive for the ‘tomatoes’ category

how much of what we did was good?

August 27, 2009

Gardening, like life, involves making choices, and often information pertinent to important choices comes to light later than we would have liked. In Roseboom, I am fairly isolated from major media outlets, and though I had heard a bit about the blight from my neighbors, I didn’t realize the scope of the problem at first. By the time I started looking up articles in the New York Times, it was midsummer. I had taken out a few of the hardest-hit plants, but overall I had adopted a laissez-faire attitude: if a plant had more green than brown, it stayed where it was. Then I began to read how the recent upsurge in amateur gardening might have actually contributed to the problem; novice gardeners, not recognizing the warning signs, actually provided incubators for the plague to gather strength and then hop to the next neighbor. I read this about the same time that a bucket of unsullied green tomatoes, brought inside after being plucked from an infected host, collapsed into slime in just a couple days time. And so, it was time for drastic measures. My remaining plants were in various states of health, but not one was pristine, so out they all went. No mercy. Feeling very responsible, I piled them in the farthest back corner of the property and forgot about them, mostly.  But not long ago, among the withering stems, I noticed a few bright spots. Not only had the yellow cherries failed to succumb, they were ripening fast, even as the plant they grew on shriveled to nothing. (Although it had spent a couple of weeks among corpses of the afflicted, it seemed bothered less by the blight than by being severed from the soil.) It recalled an image of a plump baby attached to the breast of a grey, gaunt woman somewhere in rural Appalachia. I’ve probably harvested about 50 little tomatoes at this point, and I’m glad for every one of them, but I can’t help but wonder what my windowsills would look like if I had left that poor plant’s feet in the ground.000_0875

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the whole of the harvest

August 25, 2009

000_0854Last year I learned that it is, in fact, possible to have too many garden-fresh tomatoes. Well, almost. For a few weeks, when they appeared at three meals a day, I got tired of the idea of them. But then, I would cut into one…. and somehow only part of it would make its way into the bowl, or the saucepot, or the drying rack. Even when they were covering every windowsill, every countertop, every everything, those shiny globes were still irresistible.

This year I restrained myself and planted only 19 tomato plants (as compared to last year’s 29). And, like growers across the country, I saw them shrivel with blight. I only managed to rescue a handful of early-ripening yellow cherries…

O come, let us adore.

gather potatoes while ye may

August 11, 2009

There is a blight sweeping the entire northeast, taking out all variety of nightshades. For awhile I was pretty confident I’d duck it—my tomato plants were the healthiest I’d ever seen, thanks to a combination of generous rainfall and a neighbor who is very free with his rotted manure. But last week, I began to see the telltale spots on a few stems. They were the poorest of the plants, so even as I ripped them out I retained a bit of hope for the monsters that remained.000_0825

I also plucked off a pile of shiny green tomatoes before throwing their fast-blackening stems on the rubbish heap; I had had a lot of success ripening the last tomatoes of 2008 indoors, and I figured these orphans could coaxed to redness in the same way. Or I could always experiment with some recipes intended for unripe tomatoes.

But after only a couple of days, I had this:

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And then brown spots started to appear on my potato plants, too. In the space between showers yesterday afternoon, I was able to get most of them out of the ground. It’s early, of course, but with potatoes it’s not so much a question of ripeness as mass. The longer you leave them in the ground, the longer you will have a store of potatoes in the larder. The early wee ones are a lovely luxury, though, if you can bring yourself to arrest their growth. Or if you are forced to.

This year I planted fingerlings, and while a few had reached full size in time for this forced harvest, most were the size of a walnut—or smaller. There was also a rogue red potato that sprouted on the edge of last year’s compost, and this unplanned pregnancy resulted in some whoppers, one as large as my outstretched hand.000_0842

I fear these guys, like the green tomatoes, will have a shortened shelf life, due to their brush with the blight. So I’m planning to eat them as fast as I can. Last night I started with the smallest—only about the size of cannellini beans—sautéed with their skins in butter. Normally, when I’m preparing an indulgent meal for one, I reach for the arugula. But my favorite peppery greens—especially pungent this time of year—seemed a bit much for these delicate tubers. I went instead with butter lettuce, sorrel, and nasturtium blossoms, tossed with a very soft vinaigrette sans vinegar—olive oil, vermouth, a touch of sweetish creamy mustard to help with emulsification. Yes.000_0841