I always forget how long it takes to grow a good tomato. The first ones begin blushing sometime at the end of June, if you’re lucky. But it’s usually well into July before the bounty arrives. And when I look back, it’s typically August or September when we can our dozens of jars of marinara. That’s when the tomatoes start stacking up on the counter faster than I can dice them into salsa or salads, or slice them atop quiche or straight onto fresh baked bread with a slather of homemade mayonnaise.
Which is, of course, right where we are, the very beginnings of September. A glance at my menu plans confirm it. In the past few weeks I’ve stirred up gazpacho, ratatouille, fresh sauce for my pasta, and Shakshuka. There are so many great ways to eat a garden-ripe tomato. And nearly as many ways to save them for winter.
As I’ve written already this summer, our growing season wasn’t so kind to us this year. We’ve struggled to coax our eggplants into being, our zucchini came and went a little too quickly and our tomatoes haven’t been as plentiful as in the past. It’s years like this that make me appreciate more than ever my area’s thriving farmers market scene.
We did have a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. And our heirlooms, in the end, have given us enough to make many lovely dinners. But for canning, we turned to the wonderful farmers at our market that offered up an affordable box of “seconds” (not your most beautiful tomatoes, but ripe and tasty and perfect for canning) and then a bonus box of tomatoes that wouldn’t have lasted long in the warehouse but made it next-day into our marinara.
So, thanks to our local growers, we are stocked for the winter. And we’re looking forward to a few more weeks of tomato pie and basil tomato soup and homemade pizzas with fat, round slices on top.
When I lived in Durham, we once had tomatoes on the vine at Christmas. There’s no chance of that here in Southwest Virginia, but I am hoping for a mild fall and resilient plants. I’ve still got more tomato eating in me for sure.