leinenkugel summer shandy

Tomato Delight

When I posted my first entry about flowers in my gardens with no frost in sight, I included a picure of the pretty pink cosmos. I tried to crop it so the tomatoes weren’t noticeable. At the end of this season they are shriveled and sparse- it did not look like anything that could produce the best fruit ever:

A closer look, though, reveals little round planets of red floating in the brown leaf galaxy:

My tomatoes are the delight of my summer.  I don’t even buy a supermarket tomato anymore, I don’t know what other continent it has been flown in from, or how long ago, or how many fish hormones have been pumped into the plant. Ick.

Like many gardeners, my tomatoes are an annual therapeutic ritual. From the very last fruit of the autumn, seeds are harvested for the next season. The plot does not lay idle, layers of manure and compost are on it before the snow flies. And during spring cleaning, broken branches are busted on the bed to be burned before bedding plants are set.

As I notice days are getting longer, even as snow is on the ground, seeds are planted in the vermiculite along with the broken egg shells. I can’t prove they are a helpful nutrient, still I believe that the roots have to work harder to get around the dense shell and ultimately that makes my plants stronger- a sturdy stock. The young plants are hardened off in the coldframe and long before the Mother’s Day planting frenzy, my plants are set in the prepared soil, right up to the first set of leaves.

Then I sit and wait.

OK, I don’t sit; there are hundreds of yard tasks to distract me while waiting for the first yellow flowers to appear:

Each plant is watered by hand, even with my rain gauge measurements, I want to be sure the plants get attention every week; gallons and gallons at a time to ensure the deep root drink that promises to be beneficial. This gives me an excuse to be near the heady scent of green tomato leaves and watch the drastic changes.

Finally, the first yellow-to-orange-to-red fruit of the vine. And before the first of August again this year! Even today, my mouth waters at the thought of a vine-ripened tomato and I have been eating them for three straight months:

This year, we have two kinds of heirloom tomatoes from El dorado seeds: Marglobe and Rutgers, plants from seeds gifted by my tomato-driven buddy, Val (who recently died at age 93; I promise to keep your Val-red tomato going next year, Val!), a lovely patio tomato by seeds from Dad and a cheery cherry tomato that is in its third year of harvested seeds.

Unfortunately we don’t know the name of the cherry tomato, when we bought it at the nursery, it was labeled ‘Better Boy’. Oops, but a hardy & enduring tasty mistake.

And now, again, on the second-to-last day of October, I am astounded by my gardens.  The weather definitely plays into the late production, perhaps also my new ploy helped. Not the cutting of the suckers or leaving only the center stem or letting the vine spread on the ground; that’s all been tried with no appreciable results. (In fact, I plant a row of sunflowers between my rows of tomatoes. They are very pretty, they help support our very tall tomatoes, and birds visiting the flowers find the unnecessary bugs). This year for a new technique, on the last week of August, all the branches with flowers were cut back in hopes the plant could focus energy on getting the last green tomatoes to a full red. Well, they sure are:

So, guess what’s for dinner tonight?

Let me share my recipe. Begin with basil sourdough bread, made, of course, with fresh basil from the herb garden and my husband’s two-year old starter. Have slices of a super sharp cheddar cheese at hand. Lightly toast the bread, so the crust is crispy, the bread is crunchy and the depth of the slice is still chewy. As soon as the warm pieces are out of the toaster, blanket the cheese between them! If you’re in the mood, now is the time to add a couple pieces of bacon. (If you’re in the mood- isn’t that hilarious?!) Now take your awesomely red ripe tomato and cut fat, fat wedges. When you have enough to cover the bread, uncover the melted cheese and plop on the pieces. Crack plenty of black peppercorn on top. And on the top piece of bread, spread your favorite mayonnaise. (I import Cains from Boston.) Cover and cut in half, so the tomato, cheese and mayo juice runs all over your plate. Serve with the last of the Leinenkugel Summer Shandy or the start of the Leinenkugel Oktoberfest. And that’s Tomato Delight:

Gotta go, this picture is the reality show playing on my dinner table!