Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You say tomato, I say enough already

If I were a model of the "conscientious gardener" I would be able to look back at my minutely detailed, comprehensive garden journal entries and tell you exactly when our first killing frost hit. Garden records are incredibly interesting and also provide a good source of information on interannual climate variation. I think that records of this type have been used to document certain aspects of climate change, such as changes in first and last frost dates. However, science will not gain much from my garden journal as consistency in my records is sorely lacking... sorry to let you down, Michael Mann.

So I can't really say when our first killing frost hit. Sometime after Columbus Day because I remember wrapping the tomatoes in white sheets and thinking that I wish it were closer to Halloween, so that we could have garden ghosties! At any rate, it's been almost a month since the tomatoes and other hot-weather-loving plants retired for the season.

However, I took care to pick all the green tomatoes before the first hard frost, and then I also gleaned green tomatoes from our friends' garden. I pulled enough green tomatoes to make 6 pints of green tomato relish (somewhat like pickle relish that you put on burgers.) That still left me with scads of green tomatoes, which are slowly slowly turning red. I've been foisting them off on my neighbor every week, and making small batches of tomato puree every week or so. I'm really impressed because I've never had good luck ripening tomatoes indoors before - some tomatoes get moldy or develop scary rotten spots, but overall, the tomatoes are ripening quite nicely.

I feel that this is a success story and it's all thanks to our good friend, ethylene! Ethylene is a very fascinating plant hormone - unlike other hormones, it is gaseous and is released from ripening fruits to accelerate the ripening process.

But I must say that these tomatoes do not taste summer-fresh, they taste like grocery-store tomatoes. I would not recommend the large tomatoes for eating fresh, but they cook down really nicely. The cherry tomatoes are still tasty enough to eat fresh on salads, and also make a lovely flavorful sauce.

As successful as this year's indoor tomato ripening may be, I'm sort of looking forward to a time when I won't have trays of tomatoes covering numerous horizontal spaces (I've already been kicked out of the kitchen, except for one small tray). I anticipate that the tomatoes will be completely ripened by the end of November, and then it's just a short while until it's time to place my order for next year's seeds.

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