Tag Archives: tomatoes

A Good Year for Tomatoes

Finally, it’s tomato time. We haven’t had a garden in a few years, but 2020 seems the time to revert to some of our prepper tendencies. The four hens I purchased this spring should start laying soon, and I hear the “pop” of jars sealing on pizza sauce downstairs.

There’s a comfort in a full pantry, one that many in this world do not have. Pizza is my go-to meal when I’m feeling too lazy to cook, and I know from past years, we simply cannot can enough. Every pint jar is enough for three or four pizzas, three or four meals.

Normantown Historical Community Center recently held an online auction as a fundraiser, selling off all the things Gilmer County Schools left behind when they closed Normantown Elementary School. Desks, books, file cabinets, lockers, sinks, shelves, chalkboards, and whiteboards, etc. When I visited the center to make arrangements to pick up the item I won (a set of lockers for 20 bucks), I was offered a tour of the facility.

The Community Center was cruisin’ along when COVID came along. Monthly craft classes, weekly basketball night, exercise classes, and more. A clothing closet, and also, the food pantry. For the most part, everything came to a halt in the spring–and all focus turned to the food pantry.

After seeing the set up for the food pantry, I now understand why people begin lining up at 7 a.m. on the second Friday of every month. I understand why traffic has lined up on Route 33, and why Normantown draws people from at least four counties on pantry days.

The food pantry in Normantown is a tremendous operation. Without restriction, anyone can drive through and be provided enough food–meats, cheeses, pasta, canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, pies, cereals, and more—to last at least a month (depending on the size of your household). I cannot even imagine the volunteer effort required to manage the pantry itself, much less the one day a month the pantry is open.

During my recent tour, I was also told they are considering re-opening the Clothing Closet. While the room that serves as the closet smells a tad musty from being closed so long, the items I saw available were in good shape, even though they may need washing. Though it is 93 degrees today and tomatoes cook down on the stove, winter is coming, and I saw a variety of nice coats available.

I work when the food pantry is open, but I am comforted by the full jars lining up in our pantry, and knowing if I truly need the pantry, it is there. Here, in my community. I am comforted knowing that others in our community have no need to be hungry, no need to be cold. Volunteers in our community are making sure of that.

As is in most places in West Virginia, the volunteer group trying to maintain these services and resources is older, from generations ingrained with the concept of giving back, of service to others. They can use assistance. At Normantown Center, a volunteer mows the yard, while another repairs pantry freezers, another writes grants to get the roofs repaired. Clothing donations for the Clothes Closet need sorting, rooms need the dead ladybugs swept out of the windowsills and up off the floor.

I have to wonder: how many of those who line up for the pantry those second Fridays ever return to give back?

If you need the Food Pantry or the Clothing Closet, I urge you to make use of them. What I witnessed was the set up of quality efforts, with significant choices and options. And whether you make use of them or not, I can see that our Community Center needs more volunteers. Can you push a broom? Run a weed eater? Unload a truck? I started this column to help promote the center, and though COVID has sidetracked some of their plans, it has done nothing to dampen their dedication or their efforts. Their organization meetings are the 2nd Tuesday of every month, and the 2nd Thursday and 2nd Friday—food pantry day and the day before—must be their days of greatest need.

When we look back at how COVID has changed us, and our society, I hope we can look back and say that 2020 was the year we stepped up, the year we recognized the importance of community, of family, of friendships, of time outdoors, of giving. In a year that seems destined to divide us, I hope the opposite is the actual result. I hope this becomes a year we can look back on as a time of fresh beginnings, and as a good year for tomatoes.

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If you would like information on Normantown Historical Community Center, visit nhccwv.com or facebook.com/groups/Blair58. You can subscribe to Lisa’s seasonal email newsletter at tinyurl.com/two-2020.

My “Typical” Tomatoes

I mentioned yesterday that I have fallen in love with certain tomatoes, which I consider as staples in our garden. There are two, specifically, that I feel I just can’t do without.

Brandywine (Lycopersicon esculentum)

As far as I’m concerned, Brandywine are some of the most beautiful tomatoes grown. More pink than red, they are considered to be “the benchmark” for real tomato flavor.

Brandywine have leaves that look more like a potato plant’s than a tomato. Once, I gave six plants to a neighbor, who pulled them up from her tomato bed and tossed them, thinking I had given her the wrong thing…. (Alas!)

We love them sliced, with salt (or sugar) and they make an awesome tomato sandwich. Two years ago, we had such an abundance, that they were used to make our pizza sauce — which turned out especially sweet and tangy.

Dating back to Amish Country near Philadelphia in 1889, the fruit grows deep pink and plump, up to one pound.

Twice I have tried the Amana Orange tomato seed, referred to as the “Yellow Brandywine.” They germinated well, but I had a more challenging time getting them to survive the transition from seed tray to garden bed. In all, I had one plant survive, which produced about 8 tomatoes – but they were really, really good as well.

Black Krim (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)

I just wasn’t sure about “purple” tomatoes until I tasted one. They are amazing, with an earthy, almost smoky flavor. The Black Krim is a Russian heirloom that originated in Krim, a Crimean town on the Black Sea. The baseball sized fruits are dark, purple/black.

Black Krim is known to be one of the most reliable of the “black” tomatoes, and our seeds have always germinated and sprouted well.

I like them sliced, but the Black Krim have become the “secret ingredient” in our home-made ketchup, which is more like a tangy barbecue sauce than ketchup. They darken as they cook, so my ketchup actually looks like tar in a jar.

Sure, I have other favorite tomatoes — Money Maker, Mortgage Lifter, Red Oxheart to name a few. But the Brandywine and Black Krim will always be mainstays in our garden.


Seeds of Change

Quietly, they’ve been spread across the country through the postal system, delivered to mailboxes of people who grab them tightly and carry them into the house to ponder over and learn, preparing for action in the coming spring…. Seed catalogs.

I’ve come to learn that gardeners all have their own preferred sources of seed. Some rely only one seed saved over from years before, while others faithfully get theirs at the neighborhood feed store where they’ve gotten it for years. Some swear by one company, some by another. Some prefer hybrid, others prefer heirloom. Frank and I prefer to work with heirloom seed, and try to save over our own seed, but at the same time, like to try something new each year. And although we have gotten seed from various sources, we’ve come down to one catalog for the bulk of our supply — Seeds of Change.

Seeds of Change offers 100% certified organic seed, and offers a variety of heirloom varieties. We’ve had success with germination, growth, etc — all the great things you expect from seeds. I’m sure such success and satisfaction would come from ordering from any organic seed supplier, but we also happen to like the seed bags that come with Seeds of Change seeds. They’re resealable zip lock bags. For some reason, that did it for us.

And I’ve made use of them. I managed, over the years, to save brandywine tomato seeds from the garden in my bright yellow resealable bag their grand-seedlings came in.  For some reason, I take pride in that fact.

This year’s study of the seed catalog includes a little more strategy than previous years. Last year’s Great Garden Failure depleted our seed storage in two ways — first, we got no harvest from the seeds that grew, and thus – likewise didn’t have any seed to save over.

Not to say we don’t have any seed. I have a minute supply of original seed generations, and a stout supply of seed from the second generation. However, to keep things growing as they should for many generations, I feel the need to order more from the original source each year to keep my seed line strong.

I feel especially determined about this with my tomatoes. I want my Brandywine and Black Krim to sprout, grow, produce, slice, taste and cook the same in ten years as they do this year.

I’ve gone through the catalog once with a fat magic marker, circling what I consider the basics of our garden, plus an interesting squash or grain or two. As I did so, the name of the company was not lost on me. “Seeds of Change.” What promise, what hope, what possibilities come with each order, in each yellow resealable bag.

The Great Garden Failure will always be tied to a year we’d rather forget – for many reasons. The garden was not all that we lost last year. But in browsing through the seed catalog, these seeds of change, we cannot help but imagine smiling over a plate of steamed spaghetti squash, tossed in herbs and warmed butter. You can almost taste the sweetness of that honeydew melon, feel the juice run down your chin. You can see the swirls in the top of a pot of tomato paste, and smell it’s earthy steam.

Ah, what a change can come from a pack of seed.

That is part of planning a garden. Planning the garden is planning your spring, summer and fall. It is planning your stock pile for next winter, and planning your seeds of change for next year — and the year after that, and the year after that, and so on.

The Seeds of Change catalog has come with its promises of a healthy, bountiful future. And so the planning and study continues – we won’t have to order for a few weeks yet.


Allow Me to Introduce Our Tomatoes

Seed catalogs begin to arrive shortly after Christmas, anticipation of what I like to call “the gardender’s Christmas” in February. One day, there in the mail is a small box, holding treasures inside. Little packets of life that, if cared for properly, will grow into creatures with characters all their own. Personally I prefer heirloom seeds, for many reasons, but not the slightest is that they have their own lineage, their own history, their own story.

First, returning from last year, is the Black Krim pole tomato. This is the species I discovered that helped me overcome my distrust of dark tomatoes, and is the secret to my wonderfully tangy catsup. This Russian heirloom originated in Krim, a Crimean town on the Black sea. I ordered more seeds this year, because I didn’t save enough over from last year. I ate too many of them.

A new addition this year is the Ace bush tomato. Originally introduced by the Campbell Soup Company in 1953, Ace is reputed to be an excellent canning tomato with nice red color and mild flavor.

Saved over from last year is the Red Oxheart tomato, a popular Italian variety grown since the 19th century. Oxheart are strawberry shaped, with very few seeds, so they are excellent for canning and sauces.

Of course, we also have the classic Brandywine tomato. Dating back to Amish Country near Philadelphia in 1889, these lovely dark pink fruits are a joy to see and taste even better. They are considered to be “the benchmark” for real tomato flavor. They are excellent sliced or stuffed.

Our Amana Orange is a yellow version of the Brandywine.

This year, we’ll be adding another classic, Roma tomato. Roma hails from Italy, where it is a standard paste and canning tomato. Romas produce up to 200 fruits per plant that are firm, meaty, with few seeds.

After discovering a love of dark tomatoes last year, this year I also purchased the Cherokee Purple tomato, which originated in Tennessee, rumored to have come from the Cherokees. It is said to have intense tomato taste and just the right level of sweetness.

We also saved several German Queen tomato seeds, which are supposed to be rare seeds. These meaty slicers performed very well for us last year, and were great sliced and on sandwiches.

We must have gotten some mislabeled seeds last year, because some of our plants turned out to be Zapotec Pleated tomatoes. This rare variety hails from the Zapotec of Southerb Mexico. The fruits are not smooth and round, but pleated, and made very nice salsa.

Of course, it’s way too early to plant any of these lovely seeds yet, but still I shake the packets imagining the bushels of tomatoes each one will produce. Alas, this early in the season, all we can do is look at the pictures on the front of the packets and dream of how good the contents will taste some day.

via READING BETWEEN TWO LANES – Notes From The World of Two-Lane Livin’.