Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dear Tomatoes


Dear Tomatoes,

You did not grow so well in my backyard last summer.  By the time we were in danger of freezing temperatures in the fall, a dozen or so of you were full grown, but still green.  But this year, you came back with a vengeance, and more than made up for last year's inadequate crop.

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If last summer was all about growing and eating Swiss chard, this summer, it's all about tomatoes.  This year, I grew 4 different types of tomatoes: heirloom, plum, sun sugar, and black cherry (the first three from Bonnie Pots, and the last one from seed).  I was not anticipating this sort of harvest, and I've been a little more than frantic in the last week trying to keep up with them so they don't rot or spoil.  The first thing I learned from ALL THE TOMATOES is: if you plant them, they might grow.  We have tomatoes growing out of our ears.  Tomatoes in the garden, on the kitchen counter, on the windowsill, in the fridge, falling out of the fridge, in the freezer, and even in the oven.  Hence, here are the Rest of the Things I Learned from Growing Tomatoes in my usual #TopTen form:

10. Start small, end tall.  Back in May when I planted my Bonnie Pots into the ground, the tomato plants seemed so small, and it felt like they'd never grow fast enough to bear fruit and honor me with some tomatoes.  Now, they are growing out of their cages.  They are even trying to grow into my house.  Well, it's more like they are very friendly with my window screens, but whatevs.  The cages have toppled over countless times in rainstorms, and the wires are all bent out of shape and will never stand up straight again.  But we're not into garden aesthetics, so no matter.  But I'll try to remember not to worry about their size at the beginning next time 'round.  Cuz THEY GROW.  #PatienceGrasshopper

9. Don't over-water.  Eager-beaver gardeners, such as myself, tend to get overly excited and water the heck out of their gardens.  If I learned anything from last year, it's that if tomatoes get too much water, their skin will crack and they will look frightful and grotesque.  You can still get large, beautiful, and flavorful tomatoes without watering them to death.  #IfYouCareForAesthetics




8. Anchor cages well from the start.  Lest you want to be picking up and reanchoring them after every thunderstorm.  Once the plants get big and heavy, getting the cages back into the ground to keep the plants upright is virtually impossible.  #BonelessCages

7. Don't over crowd.  I did all right with spacing between tomato plants, but I got greedy when it came to Bonnie Pot selection.  One such pot had not one, but two tomato plants.  My amateur logic: two plants = twice the tomatoes, right?  Well, only if you want to have so much stems and leaves growing in a cage that there is hardly any room to reach in and pluck off a tomato.  We're talking so little room that the tomatoes are growing warped due to lack of space.  At one point, it was so crowded inside the cage that I gave up keeping all the stems in, so now there are tomatoes growing on the ground.  Yes, we're classy tomato growers like that.  #ShhhDon'tLook

6.  Mother Nature works in magical ways.  I got to see tomatoes ripen live and up close.  In a cluster, the fruits near the main stem ripen first, creating a cascade of changing colors.  This was much easier to see in smaller tomato varieties.  #ColorsCaptured




5. Want not, waste not.  I had to do something with all these tomatoes, so I had to learn how to keep them around longer.  Since I don't have any canning equipment (nor do I want to spend a lot of money to acquire them), I chose to eat them, freeze them, oven-dry them, and paste them (as in make tomato paste).  Eating is easy; the sun sugar tomatoes are AMAZINGLY sweet.  I can eat a bowl of them any time of the day.  Freezing required more work, as did oven-drying.  I am still planning to paste them before my 5 pounds of plum tomatoes go bad, and the clock is ticking.  #ChopChop




4. To seed or not to seed; that is the question.  I never knew why people seeded tomatoes until this year (cuz I looked it up).  It seems to be that seeds turn to a bitter flavor when cooked.  I never found that to be true, since I've cooked a home-style Chinese dish--tomatoes stirfried with eggs--for decades now, and I always used whole chopped tomatoes.  I froze a batch of seeded tomatoes, and now I'll have to freeze another batch with seeds to do a comparison.  Also, my friend from high school, Karen, posted this article to my Facebook timeline on a thread discussing this topic, and it stated that seeds provide the umami (flavor) in tomatoes.  I'm a rustic kind of gal: I like peels in my mashed potatoes, and skin on my apples.  #SeedsAreFineByMe

3. Freshly-made salsa is righteous, dudes!  Its cousin, Freshly-Made Guacamole, is a close second.  Give me some tortilla chips and I call it a meal.  #ThePicSaysItAll




2. Windowsill magic.  Last year my cyber-friend Cindy advised me to ripen my dozen early-harvested tomatoes on the windowsill, and it worked like magic.  This year, several tomatoes fell off the vines from my trying to harvest others (see #7) before they were ripe.  Same method, same beautiful results.  #NoPicsButTrustMe

1. Nostalgia comes in the form of sugar-sprinkled chopped tomatoes.  We (Dear Husband and I) both used to eat this when we were little back in Taiwan.  I hadn't had this in 30+ years.  With all my tomatoes, I had to think of ways to eat them, and this was the easiest and most memorable way.  The juicy tomatoes with a sweet crunch make me feel like I'm six again.  #WalkingDownSweetMemoryLane




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So, Dear Tomatoes, you done me good this year.  With all the antioxidant properties of lycopene and fab nutrients for heart-health, you are definitely a great farming choice.  Now if I can only get my kiddos to appreciate you in ways other than in sauce for pizza and pasta...  Don't worry, I'm working on it.  And surely I'll see ya again next year.

Sincerely,
Me

8 comments:

  1. Try tomato soup and gazpacho, both well received by my kids.

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    1. The kiddos are not quite there for even these yet, Laura. There's something about the textures of tomatoes, maybe too many different ones going on. But I'll keep trying--certainly hopeful that someday down the line they will begin to like them.

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  2. Great to read that your tomatoes did so well this year. Doesn't it feel good to eat what you have grown?

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    1. Not only does it feel good to eat them, they taste amazing! I'm pretty sure it's not just my own bias. They are starting to slow, though, and timely so. :) Thanks for visiting!

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  3. Your tomatoes look so good! We planted ours too late and I'm crossing my fingers we get some before it gets too cold. Lows are in the high fifties right now, so I'm watching! We were greedy with our zucchini planting and ended up with serious crowding. Especially when wind came and knocked them all over a bit.

    I like your creativity in using tomatoes. My mom did the same thing when I was in sixth grade and they underestimated what a few tomato could produce. It took me about twenty years before I could enjoy tomatoes again :)

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    1. Janna, LOL about your tomatoes overdose. My kiddos just don't like them. But I just used 5 pounds of tomatoes to make a mere 1.5 cups of paste, so at least that's good to store and not waste. I hope they grow into them at some point. Did you get to make some zucchini bread, I hope? :) I sure do hope you get some tomatoes, too. Remember that they will ripen on the windowsill!

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  4. You learned so much in just one summer! Can't wait to see your harvest next year and what you have to share then! I'll need your expertise if I ever start a garden :).

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    1. Haha, thanks, Lisa! When I was busy having babies, a garden was the LAST thing on my mind. It's nice to be able to have some time for growing foods to eat now, and it's just so amazing--this entire process and how much fun I had along the way. :)

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