There are two varieties of cherry tomatoes I plant in my garden every year–Sun Gold and Sweet 100. They are both so sweet and tasty, fun to snack on right off the vine and wonderful tossed into pasta. The one thing they are not so good for is making sauce (too sweet, too seedy). So at the end of summer when they are growing faster than we can eat them, I’ve found the best way to preserve their delicious flavor is to slow roast them and then store in olive oil.
Last week I tackled the surplus of just the Sun Golds (I’m hoping to get to the Sweet 100s this week). After picking several baskets full I sliced them all in half, spread them out on trays lined with parchment paper (until I ran out and switched to foil), misted them with good olive oil and sprinkled (very lightly) with salt. Some people like to add in herbs or garlic too, but I like mine plain and simple.
Then I put them in the oven at 220F for a couple hours until they were shriveled up but still had a little juice left inside (chewy as opposed to crispy). Then I crammed them into jars and covered in olive oil.
Now when we’re in the dark days of winter we’ll still have memories of the fresh taste of summer.
Anyone who gardens or farms tends to have a pretty close relationship with the seasons. Besides planning when things are going in and out of the earth, there is also cyclical reflection–thinking back (and studying) the same time in prior years. At the end of the season you can always find growers saying things like "Last year was a bad year for tomatoes. Much better crop this year."
Sometimes this historical reference provides useful information for the future, like when you see how doing something differently (a change of fertilizer or method of irrigating) produces better or worse results. But even when the changes from year to year are beyond human control and can't be planned for or addressed in any way–like crazy weather or other "acts of God"–gardeners take note anyway. Somehow it still feels worthwhile and important to think about what happened and try to reach some kind of understanding. You might not be able to learn from the experience in an overtly practical or tactical way (for instance, knowing that an unexpected storm wiped out all the blossoms on your fruit trees won't give you any advantage should it happen again) but at least you will acquire more wisdom and knowledge.
As always, I find the lessons I learn in the garden apply to life in general. Sometimes we experience things we can learn from in a practical way ("now that I see what happened I can do things differently next time…") but other times the lessons are more abstract and philosophical. Even when things happen that we could never have prepared for or when there's really "nothing to be done about it" there's still an opportunity for reflection and gaining insight.
Today's autumnal equinox is a turning point I feel both in the garden and in my life. As the season changes I think back to everything I grew this summer and how it compares to last summer's crops. I also compare what I'm planting in my winter garden to what I planted last year. I think about what worked and what didn't work.
At the same time I also reflect on what was happening in my life at this time last year. The autumnal equinox stands out as an iconic moment because I remember how happy and immensely hopeful I felt about my future at that time. The memory is particularly poignant because shortly afterward I had some bitter disappointments in my personal life that made me realize so many of my plans and dreams–the seeds I had been sowing for a long time–would never be reaped.
So now one year later, after going through a lot of sadness and loss, when I think back to the autumnal equinox there's a dark silhouette somewhat obscuring that brighter time. Even though some might say there's no practical benefit from reflecting on these old wounds, I still feel compelled to think about them. I guess it's my unswerving attachment to the Socratic principle that "“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Like the farmer who can't change the storm but still wants to understand what it did to her crops, I feel the need to have some sense of where I am in the universe and how all the elements of my life fit together, even when it's difficult and painful.
So today as we turn into autumn I take the opportunity to look backwards to where I've been (in the garden and in life) but also forward to the path that lies ahead.
(Note: Photo above taken on the trail from Chimney Rock in Point Reyes National Seashore.)
A few weeks ago a friend told me her favorite local strawberry grower, “Sally Strawberry” was going out of business and selling off frozen strawberry crowns bulk-ordered from a commercial nursery. Within minutes I was emailing Sally to place an order. Besides being a great bargain, this was also a unique opportunity to get the popular and very tasty ‘Chandler’ variety that’s difficult to find at the retail level, especially at this time of year.
Around here gardeners usually buy strawberry starters at garden centers in late winter/early spring, but for our Northern California climate, Sally believes this is the worst possible planting strategy. She says plants bought at this time are freshly dug and will grow, but only have limited fruit production. Instead, she recommends using a summer planting system and transplanting in early September.
So last Friday I prepped my berry beds with fresh compost and drove out to Sally’s stand to pick up my order. I had never seen frozen strawberry crowns before, but they reminded me of bare root trees–gnarly, dried up root balls that looked like something to be tossed out with the yard waste. Within days of planting them though all the crowns already had their first set of vibrant green leaves opening and expanding. Nature is so amazing.
According to Sally, in our area the Chandler berries will blossom in
March and ripen in late April or early May. They should produce for
about 5 weeks (until mid June) and then again in August through early September. The question now is how I’m going to wait a seven or eight months to taste the results! I’ve actually had pretty decent crops of strawberries the past few years (using the conventional spring planting method) so I’m very excited to see what I’ll be able to achieve with this new variety and planting system. Looking forward to lots of spring strawberry desserts and more of my delicious sun-dried strawberry preserves.
(Photo taken in July of this summer’s crop.)