A wintry summer in Chicago has resulted in fewer beach and pool days, evening sweaters in August, lower air conditioning bills and a sadly underwarmed garden. The biggest loser in my tiny three-step levels and overflowing garden seems to be the teeny sad tomatoes lacking the sun-kissed flavor we usually get. They usually thrive in the heat, changing from green to a sunburned red that is so delicious. What a wonderful summer feeling–wandering through the overgrown vines, pulling off the still-warmed fruit, the smell lingering on my fingers long after I come indoors.
Although there are slow and steady handfuls of tomatoes ripening, usually now I am overwhelmed with bowls of tomatoes, seeking out new recipes to try, freezing soups and sauces to last throughout the long midwest winter. The tiny grape tomatoes are sprouting by the handful, but they are not our everyday favorites. And I have one beautiful plant that has yet to produce a fruit. One of my best tomato plants is one that simply re-seeded from last year, growing in the wasteland, climbing up forgotten soccer nets, intertwined with cucumbers hanging over and through the vines.
A first-time cuke grower, they have been bountiful and delicious, so much more flavorful than any store-bought ones I have ever eaten. We found many uses for them quick overwhelming amount we had, and there are still a few pickle-sized ones on the vines. Next year, maybe we will try a variety with fewer seeds, as these all had to be de-seeded the seeds were so large. But, removing the skin filled the house with an amazing, clean scent of cucumbers (one of my favorites).
The lemon and original-flavored basils are bushy and full, the scent trailing behind as we carry armfuls in to use fresh, cook with, or prepare pesto to last the winter. All the herbs are lovely: oregano, cilantro, rosemary, two kinds of parsley, dill, tarragon. I will miss you all when the first frost arrives, except that parsley that can last until snowfall.
Green peppers have been wimpy and thin-skinned all summer. My best success is the jalapenos. Firm, spicy, red and green, I pull them in by the handfuls. I’m looking for new recipes to use them–feel free to pass them along.
Ah well. As summer winds down, we will enjoy every last item in the garden until we are forced to (sigh-oh no!) buy pale tomatoes and waxed cucumbers from the grocery store. And savor the last flavors of summer. C
P.S. When the dog comes in smelling like a tomato plant at night licking her lips, exactly what is she doing with my tomato plants???