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A Record Year

On the garden yield. The 2017 tomato crop has blown away all my previous yields.

This was probably my heaviest harvest in August. Over 20 pounds. So far this year my grand total has exceeded 171 pounds, and the cherry tomatoes are still producing.

My previous personal best was 139 pounds the first year I moved to a community garden plot. I thought that was an immense amount and now I am dealing with another 30 some pounds. The freezer is full. I have been gifting a half dozen friends regularly. The food bank and the Wine in the Garden auction basket winner have benefitted from my harvest.

I keep extensive records. By variety. Number of tomatoes. Number of ounces. Every time I pick. I sort. I weigh. I process.

Doing this allows me to decide what to plant again. What to give up. This year? The last of the pineapple tomatoes. They disappointed me for the last time. I love how they look, and how they taste, but they are fickle and fragile.

My replacement for them. Striped German. In the top picture, they are the very large yellow tomatoes with the green stripes. Those were picked a bit early, just before a predicted rain. If I left them on too long, they would split.

In this picture, you can see what happens when the rains come and split the tomatoes. My other favorite from this year, the small cherries with the darkest color, are prone to splitting too. These, the black cherry heirlooms, and those Striped Germans were bought from Love Dove Farms. I bought a market pack of four Striped Germans, and two plants of the black cherries. They will most certainly be grown again next year. They were superior in taste and both produced well.

San Marzano and large cherry tomatoes also did well.

I had two San Marzano plants that produced more than 20 pounds of tomatoes. The red cherry and tomato berry plants also went crazy in late July.

My freezer has dozens of containers of oven roasted cherry tomatoes. All winter long, I will be enjoying them over pasta or mixed with couscous or rice. I freeze them in single dinner size. Enough for the two of us to share.

The plants this year were spectacular.

Ringed by rebar and string to keep them upright. Many reached over six feet high eventually. I put in 32 plants this year in two long double rows in the garden. I lost two of them early in the season. Thirty plants. Averaging almost six pounds per plant. Since eight of the plants were cherry varieties, that’s a healthy return on “investment”.

One other surprise. The purple bumblebee hybrid, which isn’t purple at all.

Do they look purple? Not to me. They do have a great taste. Next year, they will return with the black cherry, striped German, and the San Marzanos. I will probably also repeat the Brandywine and the Rutgers.

It may be the end of the season, but the planning never stops. And, let’s see if I can get to 175 pounds before the first frost.

The Tidbit Tuesday Post

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Yes, I promised to post on Tuesdays. About something. Anything. Maybe food. Maybe events. Maybe activities. Maybe the weather. Who knows.

Let’s start with tomatoes. We have tomatoes.

Lovely little cherry tomatoes. Ripening on the windowsill. I still pick them just about when they are ready, to avoid bug damage.

The crazy little ones on the left are called tomatoberry garden. They look like strawberries, with a pointy end.

I did get one Scarlet Red tomato the other day. Other than that, lots of green tomatoes on the main plants. I put in 30 plants this year. I know that is obsessive, but I still try to achieve that blue ribbon for heirlooms at the county fair.

Changing the subject.

Why doesn’t grocery store celery look like this?

Why do they cut away the leaves, which add so much flavor to soup? I will quickly blanch, then rinse and freeze these beauties in order to make chicken stock this winter.

The final tidbit? Cauliflower cake.

An Ottolenghi creation. From his book, Plenty More. One of the highlights of a month long cooking spree using any of his books. The recipe is here.

It’s a show stopping recipe that will impress anyone when you serve it.

The Garden 2017 Edition

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Been a while since I posted. Things get in the way of sitting down to write.

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I finally did get my garden planted. My full plot in the community garden. Where I am now a co-manager, which has taken up quite a bit of my personal time. I did post once about the asparagus. The 24 foot by 3 foot section that produces copious amounts of asparagus. Last year 360, yes, 30 dozen spears of asparagus. This year, I am already at 200 spears and June isn’t here yet. Let’s just say we eat more than our fair share of asparagus in many ways. Salads. Frittatas. Pasta. Grilled. Baked. Steamed. Whatever. It is interesting to me to watch an invasive, more or less, take over larger areas along that row of the garden. It propagates underground and there is no rhyme or reason as to where it will emerge.

I have been selectively ripping grass out of that area and trying to tame the rest of the stuff surrounding the largest, most prolific plants.

This has been a strange spring. We tilled later than usual. And, planted much later than I normally do.

I moved my tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and onions. Rotation in the soil is one very important aspect in gardening. This year, my latest addition, okra. Why? I have no idea, but we like to grill it, and I put in four plants. There are also tromboncino. Let’s see how they do this year.

I mean, they have done well in the past. I like them for baking and for fritters. They do not have many seeds in the neck, and they are definitely less moisture laden. They are a challenge to keep in line in the garden, but I have them in cages.

So, here it is, the 28th of May and I finally have all three rows finished. A small bed of arugula. Onions. Three kinds of cucumbers. Zucchini. A dozen different varieties of tomatoes. The okra. Whoops, no peppers. I suppose I should put in at least one type of pepper. One more trip to the farmer’s market to pick up a plant, or two.

Crossing my fingers for a good season this year. Please make the rain stop for a while. The weeds are starting to win again.

Soup Season

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Somewhere in the last week the weather changed. It got cooler and breezy and it rained quite a bit. Just the type of weather to make me pull out the crock pot and make soup.

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This week it was split pea soup with ham. Ham from last winter’s CSA meat share, and a bag of split peas. I tend to buy the meat share from our CSA in fall and winter. The fall share is just eight weeks long and the winter share is 13. Not as big a commitment as a 26 week summer share, so you get to kick the tires, so to speak.

I made this simple soup with leftover uncured bone in ham. From a March delivery. I have been working at drawing down that freezer. Dump a bag of split peas in the crock pot. Add a pint of chicken stock and a pint of water. Add an onion, diced. Shred the ham and add it. Add the bones, too, if you have a bone in ham. Salt, not much, and pepper. That’s it. Eight hours in the crock pot. Two dinners for us.

Served with the last of my ripe tomatoes.

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Some goat cheese. Asiago pepper dressing. Spring onions. Salt and pepper.

The other star of dinner. The bread.

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Again, compliments of the CSA. We get an amazing variety of vegan whole grain breads. They last a very long time, and have that denseness and chewiness that a good bread should have.

Finally, the wines.

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We did a Sauvignon Blanc throwdown, between Linden and Glen Manor. Linden makes theirs in the style of a French Fumé. Glen Manor, reminds me of a New Zealand pineapple-y SB. It was fun to compare against the richness of the soup.

Now, on to more experimentation with soups. Next up, pumpkin soup.

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The Triamble (also called shamrock) pumpkin that we got today in our box is supposed to be amazingly tasty, and I have a few soup recipes that I want to attempt with it. I will be roasting pumpkin this weekend, for sure.

Home Grown

Tomatoes. The reason I garden.

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This year I concentrated on heirlooms. Which didn’t do very well, but I did make it to the century mark. 100 pounds of tomatoes by last Tuesday. With a few pounds of green tomatoes still hanging out there. Third year in a row to pass the century mark.

I dedicated about 100 square feet to tomatoes. ROI, a pound a square foot.

This year I did eliminate roma/paste tomatoes from my plantings. Deciding to rely on Larriland Farms, pick your own, to supply me with tomatoes for freezing. Last Saturday, me and hundreds of other people descended on the farm. Most of them looking for apples and pumpkins. Me, looking for tomatoes.

If you could make it through the parking lot to the area for picking tomatoes, you didn’t encounter any crowds. Down beyond the beets and the broccoli, the last tomato fields are open. Just a few weeks left to pick. Prices are amazing. $1.49 a pound for less than 20 pounds picked. Price drops to 75 cents a pound for more than 20 pounds. I picked 26 pounds.

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Almost 24 pounds of paste tomatoes and almost 3 pounds of Campari. It was sauce making and oven roasting time, for three days total, at my house this week. The freezer is getting full. Winter will have tomatoes on the menu.

The Campari.

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They suffered a bit from the strange weather. Lots of cracked tomatoes. Just like what I encountered in my heirlooms in my garden.

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Many of the Campari were destined for the roasting tray. This batch was tomatoes, a red pepper, scallions, olive oil, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Slow roast at 250 degrees. I ended up with a total of four trays of roasted tomatoes. One with the Campari and three with the paste tomatoes. When I use the paste tomatoes, I slice them in half or in thirds, depending on their size.

As for the bulk of the paste tomatoes. Three different batches of sauce. Each yielded 2 quarts.

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I blanch them first. Remove skins and seeds after they have cooled. In the meantime, I prepare the base.

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Onions and carrots first. Sometimes I add green pepper. Always I add minced garlic right before I start putting tomatoes in the pot.

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A tray from the oven, and a finished sauce. My sauce is simple. Just add a pinch of sugar, some salt and pepper and oregano. I like it chunky. Like this.

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The pasta. From Boarman’s. Called Al Dente. It’s an egg enriched pappardelle. It’s hanging by the butcher case. The sausages. One was hot Italian, the other sweet Italian. I ask the guys at Boarman’s to give me one of each and use them for my Italian meals. Mixing them.

As for that days work.

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Ready to transfer to the basement freezer. Yep, it took three days total to process the $20 worth of tomatoes I picked. Yield. Four jars of roasted tomatoes. Six quarts of sauce. One was eaten. Five in the freezer. Not a bad value.

Rainy Days

Finally, we get a good soaking rain. Good enough to give the sod a fighting chance to survive.

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Although it also kept the carpenters from working on the deck.

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I will be happy when they get done with the work and we can finish seeding the sodding the yard. The mud runs are getting a wee bit eroded.

The good news also, the tomatoes in my garden got much needed relief from the heat and drought conditions.

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I am running low on ripe tomatoes, and there are many green ones on the plants up at my garden.

Today though was cooler, dreary, just the type of weather that screams “SOUP!” and has me reaching for the pans and the crock pot.

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I dug into the freezer and took out a package of my Maple Lawn turkey drumsticks. The last ones from my visit at Thanksgiving. I freeze them with two to a pack. Just the right amount to make turkey stock, and crock pot soup.

Don’t make the mistake that I made and put frozen turkey into the crockpot. It could crack your ceramic from the thermal shock. I started my stock this morning on the stove.

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The turkey will defrost, and you should take it out and let it cool down enough to shred. What you see above is the bones, skin and tough pieces, used to make a hearty stock. Those shredded pieces?

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Went here. In the crock pot. This is a two step process, but yields at least four meals.

In that stove top pot, I placed the legs with carrots, onions and celery. Tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper. I forgot that I didn’t have carrots in the freezer, so Jenny’s came to the rescue here. I will miss the market when it closes in five weeks.

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When she opened this morning, I bought enough carrots to use today and to cut, blanch and freeze some for when I need them in the winter. The freezer is getting back to being ready for the end of the markets.

In the crock pot, I put water, the better parts of the carrots, celery and onion (I use the ugly stuff in the stock, and then discard them). After I got the turkey ready, I shredded it to remove all those pesky little bones that turkey drumsticks have. Seasoned and left to slow cook all day. I just added the egg noodles at 4 pm, so they will be perfect when we are ready for dinner at 6.

A nice bowl of soup. Some of our awesome CSA bread.

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Last Tuesday we got a loaf of miche.

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One of my favorites from She Wolf Bakery. I definitely will be getting bread in my fall CSA share, as I love the vegan breads we get. They stay fresh all week. No mold. Don’t get hard and stale. Bread and butter, with soup. A perfect meal to herald the change of seasons.

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The flowers? Just a bit of sunshine on a rainy day.

Processing

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This is the time of year where I spend days reaping the benefits of the garden harvest. It’s quite a bit of work, sometimes more than I expect. But, it is worth it in the dead of winter when I am pulling pints of tomato sauce out of the freezer.

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Real tomato sauce. That spends hours simmering on the stove. I have been perfecting my technique these days. Learning how to best extract the “meat” of the tomato from the seeds and skin.

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I blanch my tomatoes after cutting the tops off of them. Let them cool down before peeling and seeding. The batch I made yesterday used 24 tomatoes. Yielded two quarts of sauce.

I did get lucky with some “gleaned” tomatoes.

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Split and damaged tomatoes. We were harvesting from one of the community gardens while the plot owner was away. These tomatoes weren’t in the best of shape. Not good to use for food bank harvest. For an avid gardener though, these tomatoes could make some awesome sauce. I cut away quite a bit of them. You need to get the infested areas out of the tomatoes, or risk a ruined sauce.

My sauce is easy to make, in terms of work. It just takes patience.

I start with onions, celery, carrots, sweet peppers, garlic. Sweated down in olive oil. Add the meat of the tomatoes to the pan. Add salt, pepper, Italian seasoning. A pinch of sugar.

I like my tomato sauce to be chunky. So I don’t blend it at all. Right now I have a dozen containers in the freezer from three sessions of sauce making.

If you have never made your own sauce, you do need to try it. At least once. To see just how much time our ancestors spent putting up food for the winter. It does make you appreciate what we can buy instead of make. Even though I have found that making my own food yields greater flavor.

Here’s to harvest, and the fruits of our labor.