Sunday, October 11, 2015

Time to hurry up and harvest

This weekend my freezer is filled to overflowing with various containers of stuffed peppers, tomatoes, eggplant dishes and a squash concoction - the result of a garden that seems small until we hit what I like to call Harvest Panic Season.

It began last week when temps plummeted from 70 to 40 in a matter of a few days. We knew we weren’t due for a frost yet, but it was still time to bring in our garden booty. Here is my method: cook, blanch, peel, slice, drag out every plastic container I own for freezing, then finally name the item and mark the date on the container so that I can easily identify them when I find them four years from now.

We really do try to use whatever we can (and whatever we can’t pawn off on friends and coworkers), but we have to talk about the tomatoes. I mean come on, when Spouse trudges in with bags bursting with big red fruits and plops them on our not-very-spacious kitchen counter, it becomes a consume and conquer mindset.

Here’s the thing about those tomatoes. For the past few years I’ve convinced my husband The Gardener to cut back on the amount of tomato plants he purchases. Reining him in proved to be difficult at first, what with interesting tomato names like Beefsteak, Better Boy, Brandy Wine – and that’s only the B’s. And let’s not forget cherry or grape tomatoes. By the time we were stripping the garden we could have made a float for the Tomato Bowl Parade, if there was such a thing. Hey, if they could do it with roses, they could do it with tomatoes.

Zucchini squash is another story. Ironically, Spouse is not a fan of zucchini during any other time of the year, and yet we have never missed a season of squash planting. They must taste better after he sweats half his body weight off sticking them in the ground in July instead of May when we (excuse me – he) should have started planting.

You need to understand that I grew up in a house of cans. If we wanted vegetables we turned to Del Monte – none of this grow-your-own business. Cream style corn and French style green beans (French style was as exotic as it got) were regulars on our table, right next to a slab of beef and mashed potatoes or chicken and rice. If it was a weekend we had pasta with Mom’s delicious homemade sauce (as if there was any other kind) and salad with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, but even that meal wasn’t vegetarian, because you didn’t have pasta sauce in our house that wasn’t loaded with ground beef.

Then I met Spouse (long before he was given that moniker) and I was introduced to his family’s garden. I should have known it was going to be trouble when his family tossed around words like Swiss chard and fertilizer as if they were naming puppies.

It has been a rewarding experience to grow our own veggies most of the time, like the year we got the most amazing Brussels sprouts ever, even though they were very small. There have also been garden fails, like two years ago when I thought I was buying cauliflower and it turned out I was the not very excited owner of six cabbage plants. Don’t you know those suckers came back the following year?

Fortunately, I have learned to make pretty good vegetarian dishes, and if they are lacking my technique is to throw in some chicken for balance. Still, we have an overabundance of one particular item. So in Henny Youngman style, if you happen by my house this week you may see a sign that says “Take my tomatoes… please.”

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