Homegrown tomatoes

Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love and home grown tomatoes

LL and I used to listen to Guy Clark’s song “Homegrown Tomatoes” from the 30-foot sailboat that was our first home, the first years of our true love but before we had a place to try our hand at homegrown tomatoes. It was the pre-iPod, pre-internet, pre-child era, when Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, and Lucinda Williams serenaded us weekend mornings from a mini-CD player perched on a teak shelf and we watched blue herons dive for sardines next to our dock in the twilight.

Our neighbor, the great blue heron

We eventually landed in a little corner house in our coastal beach town where it took almost a decade to plant our first tomato bed. We learned that summer’s fog does keeps mornings lovely and cool but makes it difficult to successfully grow lush crops of most varieties of love apples. I’ve learned to use fresh soil each season, to prune the plants as they grow, to stop watering as soon as fruit develops for best flavor, and to not worry when the leaves turn yellow and the plant appears to die off early – it’s just the life cycle. We still don’t have a dependable variety or two we plant each year, though. We tried the San Francisco Fog variety to great success, but that cultivar has disappeared from the nursery starts lately. Last summer, we had large, round, Oregon Springs, a variety recommended by an CSA stand intern at our Saturday Farmer’s Market because “how hot and sunny can Oregon’s springs be?” It was a good choice, though; they were plentiful enough and quite tasty. This year, we experimented with Stupice, Juliet, Black Krim, Green Zebra, and San Marzano. The fruit we’re getting is smaller and very sweet. There are never more than a dozen ripe at any one time, about as much as we can eat fresh in a few days.

 

Plant `em in the spring, eat `em in the summer
All winter with out `em’s a culinary bummer


But we had a few days of warm sun, and about 18 2-inch fruit ripened quickly last week, more than I could think about using up in a couple of days. So I pulled out a gadget we’d enthusiastically bought the year we planted our first tomato plant, a hand-cranked tomato press.

It was still new in the box and had been mocking me as a money-waster. But this thing was great – SO easy to use and turn a pile of tomatoes into fresh sauce. I cut a tiny X into the bottom of each tomato and dropped them into boiling, salted water for about 20 seconds, lifted them out, and let them cool while I put the press together. I halved the tomatoes – the directions call for inch-chunks – dropped them into the mouth and turned the crank to force the fruit through a sieve. The pulp and most seeds got spit out one direction into a bowl while the finely mashed fruit and all the juice went into another container. My dozen and a half tiny tomatoes yielded 12 ounces of future pizza and pasta sauce, and took only about 20 minutes:

 

I love this thing and do highly recommend it if you think pressing fresh tomatoes is something you’ll do before the season is over. Here’s a shameless pitch for you to buy one through Amazon and give yourself that fresh, homegrown tomato taste all winter long.

Work is done. Now enjoy the song:

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