The Garden's Fullest Moment (or...Do We Have to Eat Beans and Tomatoes, Again, Tonight?)
By Barbara Ganley, August 11, 2011 - 9:17am
This is the moment in the year I live for--when the garden spills over its edges--the winter squash running about the paths, the tomatoes leaning over their cages, heavy with fruit, the beans hiding their poles, the zucchini leaves growing to jungle size. it's also when I can begin to assess what kind of growing season it is, for as the full-summer vegetables and fruits are maturing, the fall ones are showing what kind of shape they're in and how heavily they will produce. This is a good year. The cold room is filling with pickles, jams and cordials, the freezer with certain herbs, fruits, sauces and broths, the pantry with dried herbs, peppers and tisanes. I've been to the farmers' market to buy meat for the freezer: local ducks, chickens, pork shoulders, lamb. I've been to the local orchards to pick cherries, peaches, berries, and soon apples. We'll eat well this winter. And winter meals will be easy to prepare and give us the pleasure of knowing exactly where our food comes from and what efforts it took to get it here.
Yes, it's a good season. But I had my doubts early on and I know that the threat of late blight hovers right now about Vermont's potatoes and tomatoes, so there's always some concern. In my Vermont spot the spring was cold and wet and I struggled to get some of the heat-lovers to germinate or transplant well and thrive. The beans, in particular, sulked and bolted and had to be replanted. The tomatoes pouted. The peppers protested. But of course those very conditions also meant that the peas and favas, the lettuces and bitter greens grew prolifically and bore bushels of gorgeous fruit.
And then it turned warm and then hot, with showers arriving just when the tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers needed sustenance. The beans planted late not only caught up with the sulkers, they have grown to Jack-in-the-Beanstalk heights and are producing almost faster than I can pick and pickle them. The peppers are doing well, especially those snug beneath their warm, warm tunnel, and the tomatoes? Well, the tomatoes are incredible. Never have they been so full of flavor and so numerous! All six heirloom varieties have grown so well that they threaten to topple their towers with their heavy fruit. We're eating tomato salads twice a day, tomato tarts, tomato soups, pasta with...you guessed it...tomato sauce. Even my tomato-loving family is beginning to beg me to stop with the beans and tomatoes at every meal. They want a break.
I shake my head and say to them, look up in the sky--the geese are beginning to wing south, the songbirds are flocking, the hummingbirds are battling for every sip of nectar, the bees are wildly flitting about. In another few weeks, the gardens will slowly begin to close up for the winter and when you can't get enough of warm-from-the-garden tomatoes, you'll dream of this moment, of this very moment when the windowsills and counters are covered with red and orange and yellow beauties. And so they smile and shrug (and roll their eyes) and humor me by eating another bean, another tomato.
This is eating seasonally. Storing up all the nutrients and flavors and sensations of summer. So if you have a bumper crop of corn or potatoes or even summer squash, don't groan with despair--go through the Eating Well files, get out your old canning books, and try out some new recipes for tonight and to put up for the cold, long dark winter ahead.