Life lessons from tomatoes and uncertainty.


Boy, the summer went fast!
You know, I was having a blast!
The garden is lost
If we get a hard frost
This tomato might be the last.

Back in June I set out a garden with poblano chiles and six varieties of tomatoes. I put down mulch and a soaker hose to make it low maintenance, and a mesh fence inside an electric fence to keep out the herbivores. While I was braving temps barely above freezing in Barrow, Alaska, the sun shone warm on the garden and the rain fell voluminously and the plants grew tall.

When I came back at the end of August I found few fruits but a lot of foliage and I added MiracleGro for Tomatoes (they’re not paying me to write this); the plants blossomed and set fruits. Now in the third week of October we have a bunch of chiles and tomatoes at varying stages of ripeness.

In years past, I covered the garden at night when the first frosts threatened. The chore of spreading out the sheets and anchoring them requires two people. One evening our oldest daughter, Jesse, helping me for the tenth night running, said “You are trying to hold back time. This cannot be done,” referring to a beautiful children’s book set in Navajoland called Annie and the Old One.

I have not covered the garden this year; we have avoided the frosts so far. But I’ll be gone on a locums job for two weeks, starting Friday. The plants will have to fend for themselves while I’m out of town.

Bethany and I harvested hot peppers and tomatoes this evening as the sun dipped below the horizon and the chill chased the warmth from the air. Most of the tomatoes we picked green and brought to a neighbor who likes to fry them. I looked through the red, ripe ones, and picked the best of the bunch.

Many years ago I talked with a man whose family runs a tomato canning concern; he explained that a tomato can put its energy into cellulose (a lot like cardboard) or sugar. If the fruit has the internal structure to withstand handling from garden to store, it didn’t make the tart sweetness that gives a tomato its magic flavor. No store-bought tomato can match the taste of home-grown, vine-ripened fruit.
Tomatoes are part of a summer experience, it was good to have them from my backyard when I came home, but the end of tomato season rapidly approaches.
I prepared a take-and-bake loaf of sour dough, and made a tomato sandwich with the warm bread.

The garden might still be alive and producing when I get back in the first week of November, but chances are it won’t be, then I’ll have to make do with the pink tetraploid unbruisable products that are more suitable as projectile weapons than as sandwich material.

My tomato sandwich this evening might not be the last for the year, but I savored it as if it were, embracing uncertainty.

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2 Responses to “Life lessons from tomatoes and uncertainty.”

  1. Charlie Hammond Says:

    Hi Doc.
    The only trouble with tomatoes is the season is not long enough! The cool nites magics the best flavor into them but it is the forbringer of the end of the season. I had at season at best with mine as the deer also decieded that the red plums of pleasure WERE quite good on a evening stroll around the nieghborhood. while we were on vacation they really had a ball on both tomatoes and ruhbarb. By the way I have 9 new ruhbarb plants if you want some of the harvest next year. Just give a call.
    Charlie

  2. Leslie Bryant Says:

    Steve,
    Try wrapping some green or less than ripe ones loosely in newspaper and pack in a cardboard box nestled in more scrunched up newspaper. Leave them in a cool place and see if they don’t come through for you.

    If you haven’t tried fried green tomatoes and decided you don’t like them, you should give that a whrl too. Slice them about half an inch thick. Dredge in corn flour laced with Cajun spice. Let them sit for ten minutes on the plate of flour and the coating will stick better, then sauté in olive oil on medium low heat until the coating is crisp and brown and the tomato is soft.

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