I’m hoping that at least SOME of you will get the Little House on the Prairie reference in there. I’m also hoping that none of my relatives have either photographs of me in a bonnet and apron or the wherewithall to scan and post said photos (face it – my childhood was waaayyyy over before digital cameras were even born).
How many forklifts does it take to change a lightbulb?
This is a busy time of year at the farm, especially when we hit mid-September and haven’t had a frost. Frost wipes out most summer crops – tomatoes, beans, peppers, eggplant, cukes, zukes, corn. Basil is actually our field thermometer. It will turn black within about 6 hours of daybreak if the temps have dipped below 36 or so. I guess we’ll see in a few hours, but a frost wasn’t forecast for last night, and although it WAS chilly and the heat DID go on, it wasn’t quite that frosty.
Typically, those summer items have an abundance of foliage to protect the fruit should we get a night or two of frost. Afterward, we generally get “Indian Summer” [please pardon the political incorrectness of that phrase, but honestly, it’s not said with malicious intent], where the days are sunny and warm and the nights are cool but not freezing. The plants that had ample leaf cover will continue to produce peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc. That helps extend their season until nearly October.
However… at this time, winter squash is also ready, as are parsnips, rutabagas, celery root, spinach, pumpkins, cabbage and fall greens. The brussels sprouts are getting bigger day by day.
So when the school buses start zooming down the road, we have a dilemma. We continue to bring all the summer produce to markets, as well as a sampling of fall crops. Then we try to fit everything, nicely displayed, on our already crowded market tables.
And then there’s the personal dilemma. My taste buds have missed all those warm, comforting flavors of fall. Do I start making delicata squash fries? Baked russet potatoes with sauteed leeks and sour cream? Celery root and potato soup?
Or do I indulge the carefree whims of my summer palate and whip up a caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil? The grilled peppers and onions and eggplant and zucchini that I so lovingly pile on freshly baked focaccia? How do I say no???
Polish Plum Tomato Sauce
And what about saving all those wonderful flavors to enjoy during the doldrums of a long, cold winter? Where do I find the time, now that EVERYTHING for storage needs to come out of the fields and the markets are crazy busy and my darling boy is in school and needs a regular schedule with dinner and homework and baths, like, every night? It’s my personal hell. Because I’m not real good with restraint.
So what did I do this week? I blanched, peeled and seeded about 40 pounds of heirloom Polish Plum tomatoes and cooked them down to a nice puree. I poured the bright red sauce into mason jars and now have 9 quarts of deliciousness to warm a January evening.
Heavenly Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
The next night I filled four half-sheet pans (rimmed cookie sheets) with quartered Polish Plums, drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper and popped them in a 200-degree oven. For six hours. Six hours of the caramel-ly sweet smell of warm, salted tomatoes permeating my home. Yes, I ate more than a few of them while putting them away. They’ll go into small jars and will be water bath canned so I can store them in the pantry. This is IF I have any left.
Mounds of fresh cilantro
Today, I whipped up a gigantic batch of cilantro-chile sauce
. I say gigantic because I used a dozen bunches of cilantro and 2 full heads of garlic to make this rich, aromatic puree. Instead of my usual serrano or jalapeno, however, I snagged a few habanero peppers from my uncle’s greenhouse stash and used those.
Holy Hot Pepper!!! I am well aware of the power of capsaicin, so I purposely did NOT touch the flesh of the pepper. Instead, I held it by its stem and sliced off bits directly into my Cuisinart while it was running and chopping the garlic.
If you guessed that the stem broke and the entire hot pepper fell into the food processor, you’d be right! And that was the second one — because one just wasn’t quite enough. (OMG, REALLY?) Need I say that this batch is a tad spicy? A little too much habanero for my tastes, but it’ll have to do.
Breakfast Taco with Cilantro-Chile Sauce
I pour this ‘pesto’ into 1/2 cup plastic storage containers and freeze it, leaving one in the fridge at all times. I absolutely love it with eggs – as Heidi Swanson recommends in her recipe from her very popular blog.
I make a frittata with provolone cheese, then spread with this cilantro sauce and place in a warm corn tortilla. I also use the sauce with poached eggs on a bed of (don’t gag) brown rice with fresh avocado chunks, salt and pepper. It sounds awful, but it’s so good and freakin’ healthy!
I like to keep the sauce on hand because it turns a boring dish of black beans and rice into a festive Caribbean dinner. It makes a great vinaigrette, too. I thin it out with more lemon juice and olive oil and drizzle it over fresh tomatoes or grilled vegetables. It also makes an excellent dipper for grilled potatoes or oven fries.
It may not be enough to get me through the entire winter, but the few things I made this week will at least give me a taste of the fantastic things we grew this summer. I always regret not making the time to get more things canned or frozen because they are fresh and available and such a money-saver. Someday, I say. Someday I’ll set aside a month of Sundays and channel my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder and fill my pantry with homegrown foods to nourish us, both body and soul, all winter long.
***Author’s Note: It’s pink calico, still in my closet and the apron is much too short, even though I haven’t grown an inch – upward – in 25 years. Many, many thanks to Gerry for making those cherished items for me during that relaxing summer of ’82.