Here’s something peculiar: my entire family dislikes tomatoes. All four of us. We like all sorts of things made out of tomatoes — spaghetti sauce (which is one of my husband’s specialties) and salsa, pizza sauce and ketchup — we just don’t like raw tomatoes.
I think it’s a texture thing. Tomatoes are sort of watery and squishy, and I find them unpleasant. (I also dislike any sort of melon, water- or otherwise, but that’s another column.)
So it is entirely rational that, with a family which loathes tomatoes, I should have, this spring, planted tomatoes.
Let me explain. One day while I was walking the dog, I came across a neighbor who apparently didn’t like tomatoes either, because she was giving away tomato plants. (I’m kidding. My guess is she had accidentally purchased too many.) It happened to be the woman from whom we bought our current house nearly 20 years ago, who now lives on a parallel road up the mountain from us. She was not present at the time of my dog-walk, but at the end of her driveway was an inviting little grouping of tomato and basil plants with a sign which said “Take Some.”
So I did.
I don’t know if I did so because I am good at following instructions (not) that I respond unquestioningly to orders (not) or that I simply can’t pass up anything that’s offered for free. (I think we all know the answer to that question…) At any rate, I arrived back home with several of each plant.
Now as readers of this column may recall, I do not have a proper garden. I live on the side of a mountain, off of which trees frequently tumble because of the pitch of the mountainside and because the entire mountain contains about enough top soil to carpet my linen closet. Also, because of the few trees which have managed to cling precariously to what little soil exists, we get sunlight on our property for about 83 seconds, right before sunset. So all my attempts at agriculture are contained in pots on my front porch.
This does not allow much scope in the way of crop farming.
But this year I was feeling daring, so when I saw these tomato and basil plants, just sitting there by the roadside, begging to fulfill their mission in life, I decided to aid and abet them.
Let me here mention that I have grown herbs in our rocky domain in past years, as evidenced by the ragged but undaunted patch of oregano which still decorates the corner of our driveway. It is all that is left of the ambitious bed of rosemary, thyme, lavender and other cooking accessories I optimistically planted there about two years after we moved in. This hardy oregano has bravely reappeared every spring since, while the other herbs have given up in despair and died off, which was a relief, as their moaning and sobbing was disturbing my husband’s sleep.
I have also harvested from our “yard” wild blackberries for pies and wild mint for making sekanjabin (look it up). In our early years we benefited from a lovely spread of raspberries which the previous owners had planted by the back deck, but those have died off as well, probably in sympathy with the herbs.
So undertaking tomatoes in a pot was ambitious of me. I didn’t know what sort of tomatoes they were, but my culinarily talented husband was enthusiastic. “I have always wanted to try to make my spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes, so this will be great!” he proclaimed.
Well, the tomatoes have grown and ripened — and they are cherry tomatoes.
I don’t see spaghetti sauce with home-grown tomatoes in our future.
The basil is also doing nicely, thank you. We have been using it in our cooking, and we have hung basil and oregano sprigs in our kitchen to dry, which makes the room smell homey and rather like something out of Colonial Williamsburg. I imagine there is a quicker way to dry herbs in the 21st century, probably some method involving paper towels and a microwave, but we are old-fashioned in our ways and prefer the 18th century process. We will probably end up with dusty, rotting leaves all over the floor, but at least the kitchen will smell nice.
As for the tomatoes, we are harvesting them, too, but have given up on the spaghetti sauce idea, and are looking for other ways to dispose of them.
We have some new neighbors who have just moved in across the way …
Ellen McDaniel-Weissler is a LaVale freelance writer. Her column appears in the Times-News on alternate weekends.