The Island Garden
August is here and the harvest is in full swing. The kitchen counters have bowls and bowls of fresh vegetables picked from the garden. Now the question becomes, what to do with everything? If you leave tomatoes on the table for more than three minutes, they turn soggy and attract a cloud of fruit flies. The flies won’t disappear until the Christmas decorations come down.
When I mention tomatoes I’m not talking about the baseballs bought in the supermarket – they’ll last until Christmas and still be hard. I’m talking about that deep-red, sun-ripened tomato that oozes juice and looks like it was painted by Andy Warhol. If you put them in the refrigerator, they lose any semblance of “tomatoism,” becoming cold morbid specimens that a New York apartment dweller might assume is a tomato, but any self-respecting gardener would reject out of hand. So what can you do with them?
To rid yourself of the pile, you can decide to make tomato sauce. Your first job is to peel and deseed your harvest. So on a hot and humid summer’s evening you boil a pot of water and drop each tomato into it for 20 seconds. Now you have a countertop full of steaming tomatoes with split skins oozing tomato gore all over your countertop.
You peel off the skin, slice each tomato in half, and squeeze the seeds into a bowl. You have no idea that a tomato has so many seeds and that most of them are truly ornery. They miss the bowl, drop onto the countertop, the floor, your clothes and your shoes, but only rarely do they go into the bowl. But that’s OK, you rationalize, the tomato sauce to come will be stupendous.
By now the only thing stupendous about your endeavor is the mess. Tomato seeds are swimming across every countertop, down the cabinet fronts, oozing across the floor, and all the while the pot is boiling merrily as you drop more tomatoes in it. Your sweat adds some flavoring to the few tomato seeds in the bowl.
Meantime you find your largest pot. It’s the one that you normally boil lobsters in, so it smells suspiciously like fish and lobster. You chop onions by the score and through teary eyes, begin to sauté them in a pot with a little olive oil. You add chopped peppers – mostly to reduce the pile of peppers, rather than wanting to flavor the sauce.
You then begin to pile in the skinned, deseeded tomatoes, followed by copious quantities of basil, salt and pepper. Soon you have a pot full of watery bubbling tomato sauce. But the pile on your counter hasn’t diminished in the slightest. In fact, it’s grown because your children have entered into the spirit of harvesting and have picked every red tomato in sight.
Taking your second largest pot, you repeat the entire process until you have two large pots of tomato sauce bubbling on the stove. By now it is nearing midnight and your sauce needs four more hours of cooking – and you still have a pile of tomatoes on the counter!
Leaving your sauce under the watchful eye of your spouse who is watching reruns of NCIS – almost a guarantee that your sauce will be ignored until you get back – you load tomatoes, and some zucchini, into plastic shopping bags and drive around the neighborhood leaving the bags on front steps of your friends’ houses. Of course, you’ve given no thought to where you put them, and at the next TGIF evening, one of those same friends remarks loudly, “Some idiot left a bag of tomatoes on my front stoop last week. I was in a rush for work and stepped in them. Ruined my shoes and socks!”
When four more friends chime in saying essentially the same thing, you decide not to own up to leaving the tomatoes and you slink off to tend the steaks. It is only after you have had four more stiff drinks does your mouth run off on its own and you tell them that you had a bumper crop of tomatoes and shared them with your friends. “Would you like some tomato sauce,” you add, trying to repair the damage your mouth has wrought. “It’s slightly burned but tastes just fine.”