Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Requiem for a tomato

Besides the smells and flavors of Thanksgiving day, beyond the gathering of friends and family and eating a little too much turkey and pumpkin pie there are three things I associate with the Thanksgiving season.

1. Every year within a week of Thanksgiving Day we have our first frost.

2. Almost all the leaves fall from our Walnut tree between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

3. It is, alas, the end of tomato season...

Frost formed on the fibrils of a garden plant

How I love my fresh tomatoes! I usually get the first one by July 1… and now the season is over. Sweet, full of flavor, and warmed by the sun there are few things on this Earth that surpass them! I eat them fresh like an apple, we put them in salads, I cook them into stews, I blend them into fresh tomato juice..

"Ace" tomatoes

I am a zealot when it comes to tomatoes –My tomato bed is south facing with the most direct sunlight (I call it my Fresno microclimate). In March the soil must be dug deep and mixed with heaps of compost, in April I plant about a dozen little plants ( Ace and Early Girl varieties). The plants are never allowed to dry out once it quits raining, and then I must wait until mid July and early August when we have a rush of deep red perfectly vine ripened tomatoes coming in. Those we can’t eat we wash and freeze whole for winter use. (One fourth of our freezer is now filled with tomatoes).

More tomatoes than you can imagine!

I grow indeterminate tomato varieties that stop growing ( and producing ) only when the night time temperatures reach into the 40 degree range. But now my plants are looking sad – the remaining tomato fruits have large black spots and the leaves are beginning to collect into a gummy green mess within the vine. The flavor of the last ones are way less sweet and generally sad.

And don’t even suggest to me store-bought tomatos – yuck – no flavor – bad texture… gives tomatoes a bad name!!

But it was a good year – great yield and no tomato worms! – And so I must graciously let go – and turn my attention to the bounty of the next season…


What do we do with all those tomatoes?

After years of searching I have found the perfect Marinara Sauce - (modified from the "Moosewood Cookbook" - by Mollie Katzen)

Marinara Sauce

2-3 T olive oil

2 C chopped onion

1 medium sized bell pepper - diced

2 medium stalks celery, minced

1 lb. mushrooms, chopped

2 medium ( 6 inch ) zucchini, diced

Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped (if available)

2 t dry Basil

1 t dry Oregano

1 t dry Thyme

1.5 t salt

2 lbs. crushed frozen tomatoes (w/ juice) or you can substitute canned tomatoes (1 large can)

1 6 oz. can tomato paste

1 T Honey

Black pepper to taste

6 cloves minced garlic


1. Heat olive oil in kettle -

2. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, mushrooms, zucchini, ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, dry herbs, salt

3. Sauté over medium heat until onions are very soft ( 8-10 minutes)

4. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, honey, black pepper.

5. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes into bite size pieces

6. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer, partly covered, for 20-30 minutes

7. Add garlic and cook about 10 minutes more

8. The sauce can sit for several hours or can be refrigerated for up to a week.

9. Heat gently before serving

… I double the recipe and freeze in separate packets for quick meals… good with chicken, vegetables, legumes, almost anything!

A double batch takes a little more than an hour to prepare if you get organized first -then we fill 8 oz jars and we have frozen sauce for the next 2-3 weeks -