About six months ago after our first family adventure in our camper and gaining a new appreciation for living in a simpler way, I wished for a slower pace to life. Fast forward a couple months and I got it! Never could I have imagined that it would be forced upon us! And never would I have wished for a global pandemic to bring this slower pace. But, with a slower pace and more time on our hands we were able to pursue another wish of mine, a big garden with lots and lots of tomatoes! Thankfully to a very hearty compost delivered by our local dairy farm and to the hard working hands of my husband, kids and myself, the tomato dream has come to us in bucket loads!
We planted numerous varieties of tomatoes this year; Brandywine heirlooms, Early girls, Sun Gold cherries, Fourth of July, Big Boy Brandywines, Plum tomatoes and lots of cherry tomatoes. Little did we know how prolific the plants would be and how good a growing season we would have. The kids and I are out there every day inspecting the tomatoes and gambling on which ones are ok to leave for tomorrow hoping the slugs and other small hungry visitors won’t eat them before we get to them. It’s a risk we’re not always willing to take, but Our tomato storage capabilities are reaching their max. I feel more and more like my Italian Nonna everyday as I care for my tomatoes with the tenderness I do my children and trays fill my house with upside down tomatoes spaced apart and covered with linens in order to prolong their lifespan. Like us, the tomatoes are also better off social distancing to insure their health and longevity.
I Have been making sauce, canning, jarring, freezing, sun drying and roasting tomatoes daily. We’re eating many tomato sandwiches with fresh pesto and mayo. There is nothing quite like the amazing taste of a vine ripened tomato. It’s a simple thing that can bring so much joy. The tomatoes seem never ending and the garden is beginning to feel a bit like Big Anthony’s garden from the Strega Nonna storybook! For those not familiar, his garden is a bit out of control, but the unwieldy magic of a garden continues to be truly delightful and exciting! We keep finding new surprise plants that have sprung from our dirt and are now bearing fruit. We have butternut squash trellising across our fence, an unknown squash growing in the pumpkin patch and compost bin, cucumbers growing in our pot of Canna’s and a giant gourd plant taking over a flower bed!
Every meal seems to be a new creative adventure. We have roasted some of Leo’s giant pumpkins and made lasagna size pumpkin pies! With plenty pumpkin purée leftover to fill our freezer for later use. We can’t get enough squash fritters, zucchini bread, fresh garden salsa and cucumber salads! We’ve even gotten pretty creative with our pesto recipes and made beet green, kale and basil pesto with almonds and walnuts. We’ve gone Greek and made home made Tzatziki along with feta, tomato, cucumber wraps. The magic of the garden keeps on giving and continues to renew and recharge our mind, body and soul!
We have harvested all the carrots, beets and lettuce and have started new plantings for an early fall harvest. There are so many great vegetables you can plant in August for most planting zones that will allow for a crop before winter. We have put in bush bean plants, arugula, spinach, mesclun salad mix, kale and broccoli rabe (a bitter green similar to broccoli). Some other vegetables that you can plant now are radishes, carrots, beets (for beet greens and small beets), Swiss chard, and garlic.
The kids are drying out seeds from the tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, banana peppers and pumpkins to save for next year.
To Plant a Garden is to Believe in tomorrow.Audrey Hepburn
There is something so therapeutic about working the earth, growing your own food and cooking and eating together. It is a tradition I hold dear to my heart that I am grateful to pass down to my children. Sunday dinners at my Nonna’s house packed into her tiny kitchen with my Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts and Great Uncles, cousins and friends eating a home cooked meal from the garden while listening to them debate over who found the cheapest grapes and broccoli rabe – are some of my dearest childhood memories. As a young girl I didn’t quite understand why my grandparents worked so hard when you could buy everything at the food store? Yet, there was something special about what they did that struck me even at an early age. Both my grandparents have since passed, but I feel their presence shining over me each time I set foot in my garden and get lost in the rows of tomato plants. They were two very hardworking people who lived very simple and always shared the fruits of their labor with those they loved. They were the original ‘Farm to Table’ farmers. The way they have shaped my life to appreciate the simple things, to know where my food comes from and to respect the earth that feeds me, is profound. They have gifted me with the secrets to the true riches in life, good food, family and friends- and for that I am ever grateful.
If I am so lucky to be granted a third wish, It would be that – All who have tasted the pleasures of the earth work together to preserve it. Be that in the garden and in life.
Buon Apetito Tutti!