Tuesday, September 15, 2020 8:33 AM
While the country struggles with incredibly weird weather — California burns while Denver is buried in early snow — we seem to be experiencing less-weird but still weather-related garden anomalies ourselves. Plants that seemed about to poop out in early August gained a new lease on life with recent cooler temperatures combined with increased rainfall and started pumping out blossoms and fruits. This did not affect the many wild apple trees that line our road: it has been a very lean year in the wild apple department, with the few apples that grew falling early, along with early leaf drop on many trees. I attribute all this activity to the extreme heat and drought earlier in the season. Once the weather became somewhat seasonal, drooping nasturtiums burst out of their beds and took over the lawn, and green beans, summer squashes, cucumbers and tomatoes began to act as if it was mid-July, not mid-September. There are no complaints here about an extended season, although I think I’ll be harvesting a lot of green tomatoes for indoor ripening as the latecomers have grown larger but not redder. Plants that had tiny, Ping-Pong ball fruits now bend over beneath the weight of full-sized, although unidentified tomatoes. The lack of identification is due to their being a hand-me-down from a neighbor who always starts more plants than his garden can handle. Once he’s planted them all and the remaining plants are apparently all jumbled together, he drops them off. As I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I planted his label-less, leggy, unpromising orphans. They were off to a slow start but are now hugely prolific. Some are potato-leaf varieties, indicating they are heirlooms, and a couple are gargantuan cherry-types, both red and orange.
It would seem that not knowing the variety of tomato you’re growing wouldn’t matter. If they grow well and look good, you should eat them and be grateful. But it’s hard to know just when these tomatoes are ripe. At least I know there are no Green Zebras among them, but I suspect that some of the lighter tomatoes are Pink Brandywines, so they’ll never turn dark red when ripe and seem to be quite delicious when pink.
For best sun-ripened flavor, you pick tomatoes when they are richly colored and have no trace of green on the skin. If, however, you are experiencing alternately wet and dry weather, as we have this summer, thin-skinned heirlooms can begin to crack, so there is a case to be made for picking them when they are beginning to be blushed with color and then ripening them indoors. Which is why I have a parade of unknowns on my windowsill, although they would ripen just as well piled in a bowl. Tomatoes also taste best when days and nights are warm; many varieties taste bland if nights are cool or there is a period of foggy or sunless days, so I feel I have little to lose in letting them spend their last days ripening inside. As soon as frost threatens, of course, they’ll all come inside to ripen. I leave the cherry tomatoes on their individual stems and place them in boxes where I can watch them and pick them as they ripen. The larger tomatoes I pack in layers of newspapers in boxes and check through them once or twice a week.
It’s such a treat to have summer squash, tomatoes and the last of the corn available all at once in the garden. Here’s a soup recipe that’s perfect for the last efforts of these garden favorites.
E N D O F S U M M E R S O U P
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 4 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cups fresh corn kernels
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 4 medium zucchini and/or yellow squash, sliced
- 1⁄2 cup each chopped fresh basil and parsley
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Grated Parmesan for topping
In a large pot, heat oil, add garlic and onion and sauté until softened. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, corn and pepper
and simmer for 15 minutes. Add squash, basil and parsley and simmer for five minutes longer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, passing Parmesan for topping.
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