Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Ton of Tomatoes

   It's high summer and, quite frankly, the cooking is pretty easy if most of the ingredients come out of the garden. Of course, this means that time was spent in April to create the garden, especially here in the Bay Area.
   I am the first to admit that I am not a very good gardener. I tend to swing between two extremes--too much care, usually at the beginning of the growing season, or complete neglect because my summer schedule has gotten so tight I don't have time to work in the garden. Add to that poor clay soil, and sometimes strange weather, and gardening--to a kid who grew up in the land of sandy loam and eternal spring--becomes a mystifying chore. As a result, my "farm" is tiny: a bunch of pots for the herbs, larger pots for a couple of tomato plants, and two tiny (2x3 foot) raised beds.
   This year, we tried something new: timed drip irrigation. Due to the ongoing drought, we're on very tight watering restrictions, but those don't apply to drip irrigation. "Drip" also means that water is going to the plants in the pots, and not on the bare dirt pathways, so there is less weeding. We spent a couple weeks laying out drip irrigation and planting this year's vegetables, herbs, and flowers in two areas--the kitchen garden and the flower bed at the top of the steps, then stepped back and waited to see what would happen.
   Included in all that gardening was planting two tomato plants. I hadn't intended on planting tomatoes. Tomatoes are actually rather easy to grow as plants, but getting a supply of fresh tomatoes can be tricky, and last year's crop (from a couple of heirloom varieties) was not very good: they didn't get watered in late June (we were both gone), and the varieties I planted were particularly subject to blossom end rot. Also, we are in a marginal area for producing tomatoes: most varieties need nights above 55 degrees to set fruit, then a long enough period of warm, sunny days for the fruit to ripen. But I got a request from the Spousal Unit, so that "good intention" went out the window.
   This year, I tried something different. First, I planted a variety that I knew was disease-resistant and ripened quickly: Early Girl, which ripens in 50 days. The second thing I did was to pinch off the early blossoms. We frequently get a day or two of hot weather (and correspondingly warm nights) in May, but this  year I wanted the plants to get big and healthy before starting to set fruit. The third thing was putting the tomato pots on the same irrigation schedule as the rest of the vegetable garden, so they are getting a regular supply of water, whether or not I'm around to administer it.
   I have tomatoes. A veritable ton of tomatoes. I stopped picking the blossoms off the tomato plants around June 1, so the calculated harvest date would be this week. I picked a bunch of ripe tomatoes yesterday, along with the last of the basil, and turned some of them into one of our favorite summer salads. This morning will be a tomato and cheese fritatta for brunch, and the coming days will be filled with turning all this bounty into meals.

Marinated Tomato and Brie Salad
4 or more medium-sized ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
8 oz. nearly-ripe brie, rind removed, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped very fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Combine the tomatoes, brie, basil, and garlic in a large bowl. Add olive oil and gently turn the salad to coat everything. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let stand about 45 minutes at room temperature, or several hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld (if storing in the refrigerator, take out, stir, and let come to room temperature before serving). Serve with a good, crusty bread and a nice bottle of wine.