Intrepid Urban Farmer: No Tomato Left Behind
Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:17 RCN Newsdesk
The big payoff is here! Tomatoes!
It is the time of year when I have a continually full basket of tomatoes on my kitchen floor. At any time, there are at least twenty-five tomatoes (and often double that amount) of every variety. For the past several years, I’ve had a lot of success with my tomato crops, in spite of battles with blights, bugs, wilts and other fun things. I fight the good fight.
Last year, for the first time, I decided to count the number of tomatoes that I raised. It was fun to do. I kept a running total, and at the end of the season, I had picked eight hundred and eleven tomatoes! Actually, some were small, so I counted two of those as one. It seemed fair to me. Now, I’m not talking about cherry tomatoes here. These were full-sized varieties of various shape and weight. I was pretty happy with that number. It wasn’t exactly scientific, but it suited my needs.
As I smugly spread the word of my impressive crop, I got feedback that I wasn’t using a proper method of measuring the yield. You are supposed to weigh them! Who knew? Apparently many other people. I found this out from the friend of a friend who is a market farmer at our very own Covington Farmer’s Market.
Well, this old dog always likes new tricks, so I weigh them now. I’m also counting them as well, so I’ll have a measure to compare last years crop to. Also, I can get an average weight per tomato. No, I’m not an obsessive type.
Apparently, twenty pounds of tomatoes per plant is a decent yield. I have fourteen plants. That means I should harvest at least two hundred and eighty pounds of tomatoes. I bet I can do better than that.
As of August 22, I have harvested 401 tomatoes. Their collective weight is 199 lbs. and 6 oz. This is an average weight of .4963 pounds per tomato. No, I’m not an obsessive type.
Now it is just fine and dandy to have all of these tomatoes. It is an urban farmer’s nirvana. But, obviously, the next question is this: What are you going to DO with all of these tomatoes.
Well, here’s my plan this year.
1. Tomatoes for every meal. Tomatoes and cottage cheese, tomato sandwiches, BLT’s, salsa, tomatoes with pasta, tomatoes on bruschetta, tomatoes and eggplant, tomatoes and green beans, tomato salads, tomatoes every way you can think of, and most definitely the best of all, a tomato pie. Have I got a recipe for that!
2. I made five pints of tomato jam. That took a few tomatoes. I am waiting on another jam recipe that my Mother is trying to find. She has one that belonged to my Grandmother, so there goes a few more.
3. I made two gallons of tomato sauce and froze it. Fortunately, a couple of years ago I discovered the joys of a mixer with a vegetable grinder/strainer attachment to help with this. It was a revelation. I could understand how Edison felt when he discovered Tungsten. In the past, making sauce was a huge project of coring, blanching, peeling, and seeding what seemed like a bloody ton of tomatoes. Then, I would have to use a hand blender to puree the sauce even after it cooked for a few hours. Another method I tried involved using a hand-cranked food mill. That was OK, but really, after about three batches of that, I was over it. The sauce was smooth, but the mess was huge.
Hallelujah for electric mixers! Hallelujah for Edison!
4. I canned seventeen pints of tomatoes. I had done this in the past about ten or twelve years ago. I remembered how good they had tasted in January. It was time to revisit canning whole tomatoes.
Last year, I toyed with the idea of using a pressure canner. I thought that might make shorter work of the job (it wouldn’t) as well as give me the opportunity to can and preserve low-acid foods, such as green beans or salsa without having to add vinegar or citric acid (it would).
I was almost ready to pull the trigger on one that I had selected, but there was a little voice from the past in my ear. It was my mother! She was shooing me out of the kitchen with the admonishment that she was canning green beans and it was dangerous in there!
I couldn’t shake it off. Between that little voice and being aware of numerous urban and rural legends regarding exploding pressure cookers, I was cowed. I couldn’t face the prospect of an atomic event in my kitchen. I returned to the hot water method.
I’m down, but not beaten. I will attempt to try to purchase a pressure canner again... someday. Maybe next year.
5. The final part of my plan seems to be the most popular. I give away tomatoes. My friends, my parents, my hairdresser, my attorney, my neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances... anyone in my path. I was able to do away with all eight hundred and eleven tomatoes last year. No tomato left behind.
It is a grave responsibility to be in charge of the fate of so many tomatoes. I accept the burden willingly. This year, I hope have even more to steward, all properly weighed, of course!
Ginger Dawson is The Intrepid Urban Farmer. Read her column every other Sunday at The River City News. Questions? Email: [email protected]
Photo: The author's tomato basket/Ginger Dawson
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