Only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
I blissed out on John Denver music in the 1970s, so lines from his songs are forever burned in my brain. While picking tomatoes the other evening, this one naturally started looping through my head.
I mentioned awhile back that we tried a different gardening method this year, using raised beds instead of rows. The now huge and rangy tomato plants in them are pushing and shoving each around for more room. It actually looks like a tiny crop, at just 6×3 feet, but I’m getting glorious tomatoes off the vines every night now.
We planted six varieties, including Tiny Tims and Tumblers, plus a Roma, a Manitoba and an Amish Paste, and two yellow tomatoes. We’ve now got sumptuous orangey, yellow and red tomatoes in various sizes, and as sweet and juicy as you could ever ask for.
How’d your tomatoes do this year? I called Country Crossroads gardener/writer Albert Parsons in Minnedosa to find out what he’s seen in his, and other gardens, in western Manitoba. That early-June frost which killed so many gardeners’ plants, including their own, was a setback, but the rest of this warm summer has been kind to tomatoes, he told me.
“We’ve had a good year. I found our tomatoes ripened quite quickly this year,” said Parsons, noting they’ve had ripe tomatoes from the second week of July on.
The Parsons plant many different varieties, this year adding several new cherry-type tomatoes to their collection. They also grew Tumbler, plus a yellow pear-shaped tomato, said Parsons. (I’ve grown one just like it in other years — Fargo Yellow Pear — from heirloom seed supplier Heritage Harvest Seeds in Graysville, Man. and loved both the look and taste of this little tomato, too). Sweet 100 is another tiny tomato the Parsons grew, plus another their neighbours introduced them to called Sun Sugar. “It’s an orange-yellow tomato that’s very, very sweet.”
All of them are in a bowl the Parsons keep on their kitchen counter this time of year.
“Every time you go by, you can have a piece of candy,” said Parsons.
Naturally, raw is this Manitoba gardener’s favourite way to eat a tomato.
I’m sure many of you remember taking tomato sandwiches to school in autumn — soggy but good especially if the bread was thick. Possibly the most traditional way many of us still enjoy homegrown tomatoes is “stewed” (canned) and served in a small bowl beside the main meal. Do you still dress up a mac and cheese with your canned tomatoes?
More of my tomatoes end up in the freezer instead of jars these days, largely due to too many tomatoes and not enough time. But I plan to can a few this fall. We feel ready for winter with a row or two lined up on a basement shelf. Of course, if we add up the costs of seed/plants, water, jars, hydro and time, they cost more than buying them, but like the song says…
Here are a few recipes courtesy of Peak of the Market (www.peakmarket.com) to enjoy all those tomatoes you aren’t freezing, canning or eating raw this fall.
- 3 medium-size tomatoes, peeled and slicedSalt1 deep-dish pie crust1/2 c. fresh basil, chopped1/2 c. green onions, chopped 1 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded1 c. cheddar cheese, shredded 3 tbsp. mayonnaise Pepper to taste1/2 c. bacon, cooked and crumbled
Place tomato slices on baking rack and sprinkle with salt. Let set for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, using fork, make several holes in bottom and side of pie crust. Bake in preheated 375 F oven for five to six minutes or until lightly brown. Let cook for about 15 minutes. Pat tomato slices dry with paper towels. Arrange half of slices in bottom of cooled pie crust. Scatter half of basil and half of green onions over tomatoes. Add rest of tomato slices and top with remaining basil and green onions. In a small bowl combine mozzarella, cheddar, mayonnaise, pepper and bacon. Spoon cheese mixture over tomatoes, spreading out as evenly as you can. Bake in preheated 375 F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until browned. Then carefully arrange a loose tent of foil over top of pie to prevent the crust from overbrowning. Continue to bake until cheese is brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool at least 20 minutes before slicing.
- 4 medium tomatoes, sliced1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped3 tbsp. olive oil1 tbsp. each white and red wine vinegar1 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped 3/4 tsp. granulated sugar1 tsp. each salt and pepper
Arrange tomatoes on plate. Sprinkle with parsley. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- 4 slices ham, thinly sliced4 eggs1/4 c. cheddar cheese, shredded1 tomato, diced1 tsp. fresh basil, chopped
Line 4 lightly greased muffin cups with ham. In small bowl crack 1 egg. Whisk with 1/4 tsp. basil and 1 tbsp. tomato. Pour egg into ham cup and top with 1 tbsp. (15 ml) cheese. Repeat with other 3 eggs. Place pan in preheated 350 F oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack for 5 minutes. Remove breakfast cups from muffin tins and serve.