Doctor, Your Tomato is Ready in Surgery
Languishing Over Languishing Produce
This has been an odd year for tomatoes in the Local Bungalow. Our normal supplier (and employer of the Condiment Queen side of the Local Family), Tomato Mountain, had one rough year, fraught with hail and blights. The so-sweet sun golds came late and the bumper crop of pink ladies and estivas barely materialized. We loved the organic fruits we got, but it ended early. To my rescue I found one of the farmers at Oak Park, one I tend to go to more for peas and giant cauliflower than tomatoes. Yet there, well into late fall, I found them selling giant hillbilly and brandywine heirloom tomatoes at low prices. I bought five a week for the last few weeks of the market season. Now that supplied has dwindled to three tomatoes. Worse, because I cannot bare to part with them, because I know once they are gone, the flavor of local tomatoes, the flavor of real tomatoes, will be gone for a long period. So I do not gorge on these tomatoes. Rather, I treasure them and eat them only when feeling especially generous to myself. The problem, the more I let these tomatoes sit around, considering they sat before I got them, they spoil. Not all the way, just the tops, the sides, the bottoms and sometimes well into the middle. I must surgically remove the cancerous cells before enjoying these tomatoes. I realized it was surgery, however, not by the cutting, but from the delicate nature of these tomatoes. Late-late season tomatoes taste of ripening on the counter, not of sunshine. They lack the intensity, the substance of peak season tomatoes. What these tomatoes have is texture. Can a tomato be called ethereal? Just get rid of the bad parts.
We had controversy in our choice of local fare last night. I put up half a package of Breslin Farms black beans. When the beans were ready, I drained them and made salad. I am accused by my wife of making too many salads. This accusation hurt. Why not a black bean stew. It was the peppers my dear, the peppers. Lingering peppers. Too few peppers to roast. I should say, too few red peppers left to roast. I got a huge last minute reprieve on peppers. My first plans for stocking failed. At the last Oak Park Market of 2014, all that was left were reddish peppers. The farmer selling the reddish peppers (his words not mine) felt they would stay mostly green. He turned out to be wrong about this, they ripened, but the warning kept me from stocking. Likewise, I found no jalapenos at the last market. I found a week later, a couple selling Michigan produce from the same spot I normally buy my raspado–their apples and tomatoes looked very Michigan, so I trust the peppers were too. At $1/lb, it as a lot of peppers for $6 as you can see. What you cannot see are any red sweet peppers. I did well in hot banana, hot jalapenos and kind of hot, ripe poblanos. I needed something else to parse out those last reddish, now red peppers. A bean salad, chock full o’ chopped peppers seemed to recipe. With surgically sliced tomatoes, there was dissonance in our meal and in our family harmony.
The last lingering item in our larder, this year’s fennel crop. We get one good shot of fennel each year from Tomato Mountain. I appreciate CSA fennel because market fennel is so expensive; more pricey because you only use about a third of the fennel you purchase. I am filled with fennel recipe ideas. I do this fennel marmalade where I slowly cook it down; I like it grilled, roasted, also raw. I make too many salads she says, but here that’s what she wanted. Thin ribbons of fennel mixed with the season’s first oranges. If she liked olive cured oranges, I would include those too. As the embargo on eating the oranges in the bowl eases–”don’t they’re for salad”–the fennel window may be closing. I fear I did the same thing as last year. Giddy with CSA fennel, overwrought it fennel plans, I let them languish. At least old fennels make good additions to vegetable stock.
Languishing over the last seasonal produce leaves me making dishes others do not want. Languishing over lingering produce leaves me paralyzed in process. I know what will come next. Next is the time when you don’t find the raspado man and you don’t find some Michigan produce in place of the raspado man. I must move along to rutabagas, in the box this week, and much frost kissed spinach in boxes to come. In the meantime, I will get every last bit of usable tomato left from what languishes on the table.