Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Love Apples

 The French called them "pommes d'amour" - love apples. An aphrodisiac? I think not but for their lovely color and bulbous shape lying on the kitchen windowsill. I love to look at them, marvel at their fullness. I love the taste, that's for sure.

 Who first tried a bright red tomato? A member of the deadly nightshade family, you'd approach this succulent orb with some fear. It looks too good to be true. Searingly red-orange, ripe globes hanging on a pungent vine. I might take a small bite and yet a small bite, as with a mushroom, might be too much.

 We always expect our first tomatoes in mid-July, coincident with my birthday, but this year the harvest began a bit late. I picked the first of these "Better Boy's" in late July but the overabundance began last last week. Now I am picking them by the basket-fulls and we don't know quite what to do with the excess.

 I pick them before they are quite ripe. It's necessary to prevent insects and slugs from biting into them, ruining their perfection. And yet the taste is best when they ripen wholly on the vine. Instead we wash them thoroughly, line them up on the kitchen windowsill, pile them on the counter top and watch the almost-ripe turn bright red in two day's time.

 Yesterday Mom blanched and removed the skins of a batch of them and cut them into small chunks and froze them in a bowl, all without cooking. These will be added to soup mid-winter and we'll fondly remember these August days as the snow flies.
 Tomatoes are a fruit of feast or famine ... we have too few, we have too many, and with no more than mere days between the two.

 I've found Better Boy to be the best tomato for our use. It is a "cluster" type tomato - a whole bunch of tomatoes form side by side in a sort of grape-like cluster. I've never liked the huge tomatoes that form such hideous shapes, regardless of their taste. And yet these are forming larger tomatoes than in past years. It's been cooler than normal with regular rains. When the rain hasn't come, I've been there with my hose.
 Quickly we'll reach a point where I throw the less-than-perfect tomatoes right into the compost pit. I think of this every winter when tomatoes hit their exorbitant winter prices and when their taste degrades to no more than mere pink-flavored water. What of the hydroponics that are available year round? The best I can say is that they fill a need but they are hardly satisfying.
 Give me tomatoes like these - ripe and red, meaty and thick and with the taste of Midwest soil flowing through their veins. These are summer's greatest gift and I gather them like the treasures they are.

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