On our kitchen counter are three large boxes filled with tomatoes plucked early from their sunny garden spot due to the untimely arrival of freezing temperatures in September. There are four more boxes in the garage.
Gardeners have all sorts of strategies for dealing with Wyoming’s short growing season, including hanging the early harvested tomatoes upside down in the garage to ripen. But at our house, tomatoes are ushered directly from the vine into boxes according to their varieties. When the gardener plants 15 types of tomatoes ranging in color from nearly black to cherry red, it’s a beautiful sight.
They start out green, then over a week or so begin to ripen, assuming bright, shiny colors resembling glorious Christmas ornaments.
The names are almost as alluring as the colors and smells. We’ve got Vernissage, small, almost plum-colored tomatoes. Black Beauty fruit lives up to its name with something much lighter than black but richer than purple. Of course, there are Black Krim, Green Zebra and Tie-dyed tomatoes. You can see the health benefits just oozing from these beauties. I know you’ve read all about how the antioxidants in rich-colored tomatoes can do everything from reducing the risk of heart attack to preventing all kinds of cancer, particularly prostate. I’m pretty sure they also make you lose weight while eating ice cream, but that may be just my imagination.
After all this visual pleasure comes the smell part of the program. The tomatoes are roasted in the oven, some to a nicely burned top with juicy red interior. I’ve been waking up for days smelling the earthy aroma of tomatoes that gives our house the ambiance of the finest Italian restaurant imaginable. Then the roasted tomatoes are neatly frozen in labeled packets to go into whatever fantastic pizza sauce, soup or fish stew the chef prepares throughout the winter.
Night of the living squash
During all this tomato worship, the squash and zucchini are quietly biding their time in the hallway. Because my husband, the gardener, likes to order rare and exotic plants from his heirloom seed catalogs, things grow in our garden that look like giant mutant gourds that could grow to take over the house, like Jack’s magical beanstalk or Audrey Jr., the blood-drinking plant of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
It’s probably rude to say that the Chicago Warted Hubbard is the ugliest thing ever grown, but its skin does have the look and feel of an ancient and menacing crocodile. The 10-pound Marina Di Chioggia is a sea pumpkin with creepy, warty bluish skin but a delicious taste. Thank goodness, he hasn’t planted any Snake Melons yet.
But the best are the happily named “Honey Boat” squash. There are three of the green-and-yellow-striped beauties in front of our fireplace right now. They taste like honey and look like expensive decorative pillows. It’s harvest time – a triple threat – delicious, beautiful and good for you, too.