Musing: harvesting august
Now here’s a problem I want in my life: Four pints of raspberries. Warm to the touch from the sun they drank through the spiky umbilical cords of their mother bushes. What to do with four pints of just-picked heritage raspberries? One pint can go directly in my belly, no questions asked. One pint can go directly in Little Friend’s belly, no questions asked. And one pint is begging to be dedicated to my latest Smitten Kitchen recipe fav, Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin. (Doesn’t your mouth melt just a little reading that title?) If my math can be trusted (and trust me, it usually can’t) that leaves one precious pint to consume in some way, shape or form. I love summer harvest.
August’s harvest has swollen to bursting the crates, barrels, and bags of my local farmers’ markets. Carpets of canning tomatoes spread across the ground since table space has been already overcrowded with the beans, cabbages, eggplants, and melons of the week. The bounty makes me want to weep. I disguise my teary eyes behind big Jackie O. shades and fight the crowds for a share in the harvest. Last night I prepared a late, late dinner of a tomato-mayo sandwich. A longer run, as prescribed by my half marathon training plan, in the morning had zapped all reserves of energy, and Little Friend had made bedtime difficult. (The stuffed mouse had to be in the crib. No, in the rocking chair. No, on second thought, in the crib. Drink of water? Diaper change? Another book? Read the mouse a book? How about lights out? You’re probably not surprised after this sequence to learn that the stuffed mouse in question is modeled after none other than the mouse from the classic children’s book, If You Give A Mouse a Cookie. I’m thinking of hiding this cursed stuffed mouse at the bottom of some deep drawer.) Anyway, after the morning’s run and evening’s shenanigans, I was ready for that towering sandwich of scarlet slices and dripping white sauce.
The tomato-mayo sandwich did not disappoint.
I felt like a little girl again, wiping juice and seeds from the bottom half of my face. My paper napkin was drenched. The crack and tang of sea salt surprised my molars after the softer decomposition of tomato and whole wheat bread. The leftover slices of the Brandywine heirloom on the cutting board arrested me for a moment as I composed a quick prayer of venerable thanks to a Creator who could produce such brilliant bounty from just a fleck of a seed. Thanks to a friend who has loaned us a corner of her alpaca-poo-fertilized garden, our kitchen is swimming in an incarnadine sea of tomato juice. One tomato sandwich is a drop in the bucket.
Thirty Amish Paste tomatoes were converted yesterday to oven-dried tomatoes (see recipe below). I stood at our kitchen sink, pushing my thumbs into the thick-walled chambers of the tomato hearts, squeezing out bloody juice and seeds that looked for all the world like giant white blood cells. The carnage made me pause. Beauty and tragedy spring from the summer ground. We cultivate, pamper, and cheer on the efforts of our little spring plants. Then we harvest and kill the miraculous fruit in order to sustain human life through the winter months. Something about buying the produce from a local farmer, or better yet, growing it in my own backyard (or friend’s, in my case), makes the plant’s sacrifice so much more meaningful than the disconnected slaughter and purchase of a cellophane-wrapped tomato from the grocery store mid-February.
I may be taking this whole August harvest thing a bit far this year.
I’m taking on Nourished Kitchen’s Preserve the Bounty challenge this month. That means attempting five different non-canning methods of preserving foods. Traditional methods that my great-grandmother probably did in her sleep. I come from a family, however, who has, for the past couple of generations at least, forgotten the art of preserving. My mom and I are rediscovering the lost art, though, and preserving our August bounty one tentative step at a time. We call each other and wonder over the phone lines if our cucumbers are submerged under enough water, or if our dilly green beans have somehow gone awry in their lacto-fermentation baths. (The words “lacto-fermentation” are so new to me that they still appear in quotation marks on my mental screen.)
I’m afraid my green beans have gone awry.
If I’m wrong and something is actually going right in these jars of objects that look suspiciously like something stashed away on a shelf in my old high school Anatomy and Physiology classroom, then I will have an edible preserved food imbued with all the wonderful benefits of probiotics (those same helpful organisms that are helping to sell a whole lot of Activia yogurt these days). While my dilly beans may not be the poster children of the preserved green bean world, I’d disregard their current appearance and recommend checking out this helpful and easy dilly bean recipe from Heartland Renaissance.
Running through my neighborhood yesterday, I crunched through the first brown leaves of autumn. Whether casualties of a prolonged deficit of rain in Pittsburgh, or actual harbingers of the cooler days to come, the leaves got me thinking about the fall harvest just a calendar page away. The butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkins, potatoes, garlic, butchered meats, and late tomatoes. Tomatoes. That reminds me. I still have August’s bounty to deal with on my counter. I think the swollen-till-splitting Green Zebras and Purple Cherokees are just begging to be sacrificed for pizza sauce.
I’ll grab a handful of raspberries to munch on and get started right away…
20-30 plum, amish paste, or roma tomatoes (Anything thick and fleshy will work here. I’m currently experimenting with some heirloom Japanese Blacktrees.) In this quantity, forgo the grocery store produce aisle and scour your local farmers’ markets for a priced-to-sell bushel.
Olive oil (I’m a convert to extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic olive oil)
Coarse salt (Put away the table salt. Kosher salt or sea salt works beautifully with this recipe, although I prefer the health benefits of trace minerals found in unrefined sea salt over the refined kosher salt.)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Rinse the tomatoes and halve lengthwise.
3. Press out the seeds and pulp using your thumb. It’s messy, so wear an apron unless you prefer to look like you’ve come out on the winning side of a bloody tomato war. (Little Friend pointed to my seed-studded t-shirt and said, “Dots.”)
4. Place the tomatoes cut side up on baking trays. Keep tomatoes in a single layer, but pack them closely together.
5. Drizzle with olive oil. To evenly distribute the oil, use a basting brush.
6. Sprinkle with coarse salt.
7. Roast for 30 minutes. During this stretch, the tomatoes will soften, sizzle, and squelch. The water begins to evaporate, but they’re not done yet.
8. Roast for an additional 20 to 30 minutes (or longer). Watch for the tomatoes to achieve that perfect state of oven-charred dehydration: singed along the bottom and edges, shrunken flesh, puckered skin.
9. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring the tomatoes to a container. Add olive oil to the container until the tomatoes are covered, which keeps them fresh and unmolded for months if stored in the fridge.
10. Refrigerate what you don’t eat or use right away.