Sow There! What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes, July 30, 2020

Vibrant, homegrown tomatoes. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
July 31, 2020 at 3:30 a.m.

The time of the great tomato harvest is upon us. This time of year, I often write four columns in a row about red tomatoes, followed in the fall by eight columns about green tomatoes.

I love tomatoes as much as anyone, but as often as I write about them, I seldom eat them.

Tomatoes are best eaten red and warm, one after another, as if you’re on the show “Survivor” trying to eat your fill before someone suggests you share with the group.

When I eat tomatoes, I’m standing in my yard.

Many gardeners know that tomatoes are best when they are not refrigerated. They lose their flavor and texture when cooled, and end up tasting like tomatoes you would loathe buying at the grocery store. Yet, sometimes you get a huge batch of ripe and ready fruit all at once.

The Steamy Kitchen website suggests keeping tomatoes at room temperature if you’re going to gobble them up within a few days. Cooling is OK if you pop the ripest of fruit in the cool storage, and then eat them within four days. When you take them out, let them return to room temperature; Some, but not all, of the flavor, will return.

The modern bad habit of cooling tomatoes is exactly why store-bought tomatoes taste like a communion wafer, and why summer fruit is such a treat.

When I taught third grade I brought tomatoes to the classroom and tried to teach the class John Denver’s version of the “tomato song,” The children laughed at me, and did not sing because their mouths were full. This did not stop me from dancing and singing by myself.

Too much of a great thing

I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but I have plenty of tomatoes, thank you very much.

Recently I visited Mandy and Larry in Red Bluff for a backyard barbecue. Another gracious host was Eloise, age 6, who must have soon sensed that I love all things garden. Eloise gave me an extended tour of the yard, the birdhouses, the cement alligator, the spider shack, her grandfather’s music studio, the place where the dog leaves droppings … She was queen of her domain and clearly enjoying sharing every fact she knew.

Due to the pandemic, the gathering was outside, which meant the tour could have been completed within minutes. That’s why we toured the yard three times.

You can learn a lot about your friends when their loquacious 6-year-old granddaughter has an audience and wants to extend the conversation.

The family lost their home in the Camp Fire, and bought a “new home,” whose hearthstone was set in 1898. Each time I visit, there’s a new home improvement project underway.

Mandy and Larry are so madly in love that it could make you sick if their happiness was not contagious. It seems like everyone within their circle is kind and thoughtful to each other. I’ll need to visit more often so I get in the habit of sharing love and joy with all those I encounter.

Before the visit, I had worked most of the day organizing my new classroom in Tehama County. With all that busy, busy work, I had forgotten to eat. I set down my purse and demanded food before Mandy could finish setting out the appetizers.

Perhaps the family concluded I was incapable of feeding myself. When I left, they tried to send me on my way with potato salad and fruit from their backyard trees.

Their tomatoes were stacked in a mound, in various sizes and colors. I could take as many as I wanted, they urged, grabbing large containers.

Ummm. No thanks.

Someday I may invest in one of those portable freezers, where other people’s summer fruit can be stored. But for now, my freezer has met with maximum capacity.

Storage tips

Tomatoes, by the way, can be frozen whole, which takes almost zero prep.

Some folks like to dip them in boiling water and yank the skin away. I don’t bother. In winter, when you’re trying to find room for frozen pizza and leftover turkey, you’ll find the frozen tomatoes shoved in the back covered with a haze of frost. Plop them in a skillet with zucchini and lots of garlic and you have a mighty fine stovetop stew.

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