August 3, 2010
When Will and I were in college, we had this monster, MONSTER vegetable patch in our way overly large for two college students yard. And when I say the thing was big, I mean it. Right now our garden is plenty big for the four of us (which doesn't stop me from making plans to expand it) and I'd guess that it's a third the size of the space we planted back then. I'm not sure what we were thinking. Actually, Will was thinking I was crazy and just went along for the ride and I had - no surprise here- dreams of growing most of our food. It hadn't occurred to me to get chickens at that point, probably good since we were poor as dirt and couldn't even splurge on things like, say, tomato cages, so building a chicken coop would probably have been beyond our means a bit, not that we wouldn't have done it anyway.
Because we were experimenting in pretty bare bones gardening, our cageless tomatoes were held up, sort of, with some sticks tied together with yarn. Not much help. By August the tomato patch, which was oversized, even by our garden's standards (I had started tons and tons of tomatoes from seed because I had heard it was hard to get them going, and then they all lived, and I couldn't stand the thought of killing any of my little plants so, yeah, there were a lot) was a giant tangled jungle of brandywines, sweet one thousands, yellow pear and beefsteak tomatoes. We couldn't possibly eat that many tomatoes. Not even if we'd had them for breakfast lunch and dinner. I wanted to preserve them, somehow, and sauce seemed too complicated with all the warnings about botulism and spoiling and the need for a presser canner, which, given the fact that I didn't have tomato cages, was not high on my priority list of things to buy.
In the end, I dried them. I took all the screens off our windows, hosed them down and filled them up with slices and halved tomatoes, stacking them inside the barbecue that we got at a garage sale for $5 and which almost blew up the first time we used it (scared us off of gas grills for years!) My reasoning was that the barbecue would help collect the heat, covered in black who-knows what as it was, and I could close the lid each night to keep the evil raccoon that lived under our house from eating my garden largess.
Surprisingly, it worked. I had stacks and stacks of sun dried tomatoes. Most went into baggies and then into the pantry, some were packed in jars of oil, and for the rest of the year we ate sun dried tomatoes in and on and with, just about everything. Not a bad way to dine for a couple of starving students.
I've never gone that crazy with tomatoes again. It was too much work to keep up with the harvesting and drying. And besides, we use our grill too often these days. But I did plant eleven plants this year. Most of them heirloom varieties that came in a mix from Southern States Seed Exchange with a few garden center romas thrown into the mix. Despite the heat of the summer, it wasn't until last week though, that any of our fruits were ripe enough to pick. But suddenly we have tomatoes coming out our ears. And isn't that always the way, you wait and wait for that first garden tomato and then all of a sudden you have more than you can handle.
So far I'm not drying them, although I have a scheme that involves Will building a solar dryer like the one my grandmother had in her yard. But that really hinges on how bold I feel about harvesting the figs off of two trees down the road (the owners are away in France all summer, last year I took some here and there, but for this to work I'd need tons. On the other hand, they are just falling to the ground up there...) In the meantime, I've decided to try making sauce.
I still don't have a pressure canner, but after perusing many, many recipes, I think I've come up with a plan that will produce a good sauce without killing my family. Batch number one is in the works right now, cut into chunks and roasting in the oven (no oil! Oil is bad it seems in terms of canning) making our whole house smell wonderful. And if at the end of the day, it doesn't taste good enough to jar up, well, I've still got another basketful of ripe beauties waiting for some other recipe, and several more that will be ready tomorrow.
And now that I think about it, we do need to pull off all the screens to paint.