Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Last Tomatoes

Though we've had a slow, warm, La Nina fall, this weekend I finally pulled up the tomato vines. After a couple of nights of below freezing temperatures one must accept there really will be be no more tomatoes this year. Everything went into the compost heap: withered stalks, green tomatoes and all. Green tomatoes that have frozen develop an odd translucency and squishy texture when they thaw.

Meanwhile, the kitchen table was covered with a pile of tomatoes, from dark green and full of tomatine to the almost chartreuse they become just before morphing into pale yellow and then red. A row of tomatoes sat ripening on the windowsill. I'd already made and put up various kinds of salsa and sauce, some canned, some (without the vinegar or lemon juice) frozen. But there were all those green tomatoes.

My friend the British historian had recently given me a book of preserves from the British Women's Institute and in it was a recipe for green tomato and apple chutney, one of those recipes that must be simmered for three hours, a perfect project for a chilly, gray Sunday afternoon. So I converted the measurements and set out to can. I used the chartreuse and yellowish tomatoes for the job, and culled the really dark green ones for the compost heap. The rest, as they ripen, will go into salads or soups--and that, alas, will be the end of fresh tomatoes for the year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Note: I had always thought green tomatoes were full of solanine, since they are in the nightshade family, and had been told that tomato foliage and green tomatoes are poisonous--eat too many and nausea will ensue. But it turns out that they are not so dangerous after all, according to NY Times food writer Harold McGee. You can read his most interesting article here, "Accused, Yes, but Probably Not a Killer."

Related Posts:
All Kinds of Nightshade
Walking through a Cornfield in Norfolk

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Samhain, Halloween, Day of the Dead, All Saints/Souls Days

What a lot of names there are for this time between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. It is the time in the northern hemisphere when we gather in the harvest, say goodby to growth and prepare for winter's rest, the time when the barriers between the worlds of the living and dead become momentarily thinner, and we remember friends and relatives no longer with us. It is a time of bittersweet celebration, as the days grow shorter and colder before the great turn back towards the light.

Agriculturally and for gardeners, the old year closes when the harvest is gathered in, and for the old Celts and neopagans, the new year begins. My instincts have always gone with the idea that spring is the time of new beginnings, as I wrote in Sandhill Cranes and Spring Resolutions. Each of these holidays are like buoys in time's flood, not really a beginning or end, but a marker of beginnings and endings that have no real fixed points, that blend, that submerge and emerge ceaselessly as the tides. So we pick days for remembrance, to mark and celebrate the turn of the seasons, the progress of our lives.

An Absence of Some Months

The past few months I've been involved in helping develop a sustainability center at Triton College. The process is not yet complete. More news to come regarding this exciting development.