Tomato Time

Sorry for stepping away for a day, but my garden work kept me detained a bit longer than I thought when I was writing on Monday morning.  The tomatoes are in full swing  and I seemed to have gotten lost amongst the vines for a very long time before resurfacing and realizing that most of my day had passed me by.

This is the first year that we have not planted any slicing tomatoes.  We planted only small cherry-type tomatoes (Juliets and Mexican Midgets) for the girls to snack on, and paste tomatoes (Viva Italias, Speckled Romans and Amish Pastes) to use for tomato sauces and salsas.  What I didn’t realize about these types of plants is how many more fruits they produce compared to slicing tomatoes.  Oh my.  On Monday afternoon while I was picking, I found 4-6 ripe tomatoes, 6-8 I’m-almost-ready tomatoes, and about 20 addition green tomatoes just waiting to get ripe.  That is also not factoring in that each plant still has about 20-30 blossoms.  Apparently the tomatoes have done just fine with all of this heat.

So what to do with all of these lovely tomatoes?  Tomato sauce it is!  I love, love, love making tomato sauce.  I have no idea why I cherish this activity so very much, maybe its my Italian roots, but I look forward to this activity come late July each and every year.

Yesterday I woke up early to begin this favorite task of mine.  I went out to the herb garden, enjoyed the cool damp air from the rain the night before, and spent some time in meditation just picking oregano and basil.  It was a great start to my morning.  Then with coffee at the ready, and ingredients laid out, I went to work.  And what lovely work it was, in the quite of the morning before anyone else awoke to begin their day.  Ah.

My Tomato Sauce

I kind of fly by the seat of my pants with this recipe as (much like with my pesto). I first put a good amount of olive oil in the bottom of a stock pot.  I then add garlic and onion (chopped) and I cook that down until the onions become translucent, but not brown.

I then add my chopped tomatoes and my fresh oregano and basil.  I add a bit of salt and pepper at this point, cover the pot and let it cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes.  I then remove the lid and allow to cook for another hour or so.

At this point, I run a hand blender through the sauce (I don’t strain my seeds.  I know all the Nanas out there may turn their nose at this 🙂 )  Add more salt and pepper to taste.  Then I bring the sauce down to a simmer and leave it for several hours.  I stir it every once in a while to keep the bottom from sticking.  At the very end I add a bit of butter to cut the acidy taste.

I freeze my sauce as opposed to canning it because I find it hard to stick to an exact recipe, which is so very important to do if you are canning.  I normally freeze my sauce in wide-mouth glass quart jars filled about 2 inches from the top of the jar (to allow for expansion during freezing.)

Tomato Time

In our neck of the woods, Mother’s Day weekend marks our last frost date.  So now that momma’s day has come and gone, we have been “gettin’ out in it” and planting our tomatoes.

If you have been reading for awhile now, you may remember that back in February we had our family’s annual seed starting day.  Well, I’m sad to say that after three years of starting our tomato seeds inside, this year was a complete flop.  We are not sure of the cause:  old seeds (for the first time ever we used left over seed from the previous year instead of ordering new), bad light bulbs, not enough watering, too much watering or a little bit of each.  But whatever way you look at it, those tomato seeds never got beyond the tiniest sprout and then just kind of died.

After getting beyond the feelings of defeat, we went on to plan number two:  the farmer’s market.  I started chatting with a few different venders and found a woman whom I immediately knew I wanted to buy tomato plants from.  She genuinely cared about the plants that she had tended to since seed stage, and I knew with that much tender loving care I was bound to get some great tomatoes out of these plants.  From this kind woman I ended up with:

~18 Viva Italia plants (She claims they make the best tomato sauce and cans beautifully…yes please!)

~2 Juliet plants (These plants produce small, oblong tomatoes that are sweet in flavor and are perfect for garden snacking.)

I then ventured to another farmer’s market where I ran across our favorite local mushroom growers.  They told us that their tomato seeds they started indoors for their home garden didn’t grow past seedling stage either (I must say, this did make me feel a touch less like the worst green thumb on earth.)  They told me they were going to purchase some tomato plants from the vendor whose booth was neighboring theirs, so I too bought a few plants from them.  I ended up with an additional 6 Roma plants.

Finally, I went back to The Seed Savers Exchange, where we buy all of our seeds, and looked at their transplant options.  I ended up ordering a few of our favorite heirloom varieties from them:

~2 Green Zebra plants (A sight for the eyes as well as the taste buds!  Tart yet sweet in taste…delicious.)

~2 Mexician Midget plants (For more garden-side snacking)

~1 Amish Paste (A great paste tomato we had great success with last year.)

~1 Speckled Roman (Also a great paste tomato we loved in past years.)

***A great natural gardening tip I obtained from the lovely woman I mentioned from the first farmer’s market:  When you plant your tomato transplant, put one tablespoon of epsom salt in the hole before you plant.  Then once a month, sprinkle one tablespoon of epsom salt around the base of the plant and water.  She said she has been doing this for years, and the epsom salt acts as a natural fertilizer for the plant.

I tried it out.  I dug my hole, put down a thin layer of compost, then added the one tablespoon of epsom salt.  I then planted the tomato plant as I normally would.

We shall see.