Fresh Maters, Precious

Noshing Time

Whenever the fresh tomatoes start rolling in, I always think about the great book by Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the chapter that she titled, “Life in a Red State: August.” The title is overdetermined, as she was referring to the circumstance that she was living in Virginia at a time when it was run by right wingers, and the fact that she had so many tomatoes that she could not even see the surface of her countertops. That’s a serious canning job.

We timed using our last quart of MJ’s home canned tomatoes perfectly, as we used them last weekend to make sauce for our brick oven pizza. Then guess what, the new fresh tomatoes start rolling in. These are all local, and some came from around ten feet from our front door. The light colored ones are Bella Rosa, that we grew on our deck.

The purple ones we bought at the Festhalle Farmer’s Market, from the same farmer who grew that crate of tomatoes that are my logo. I suspect that they are Cherokee Purple, a great tasting tomato, as his daughter, who handled the sale, had dyed her hair purple. A farm girl has to do what a farm girl has to do.

Barbara Kingsolver writes that most farmer’s vote conservative because of the risk involved in farming–one bad crop or bad season, and you’re toast. I would add a lack of decent education in rural areas is a great contributor. After spending twenty nine years in the education system which is now the worst in the US, I can say that we have worked hard to become last overall. Irony alert.

I will instead concentrate on maters, having given up on learnin’, except for my own. We have a state run by looney tunes characters, except that they have no humor, which is not a good combination.

Simple Enchilada Sauce

Bring out the Tortillas

This is from so far south, it’s from across the border. It is, however also a staple of most Tex-Mex style Mexican restaraunts. Fortunately, it is also dead simple to make.

Ingredients

Peanut Oil

Flour

Can of Tomato Sauce

Salt

2 or more Chipotle Peppers, and Adobo Sauce

If you have cast iron intestines, you can go the Rick Bayless route, and make this with nothing but Chipotle peppers. As I prefer living, I go the tomato sauce way.

Start by making a little blond roux with the oil and flour. I used a regular size can of sauce, or you can mill some canned tomatoes, as it results in the same texture. After it begins to boil, throw in Chipotles that have been seeded. How many is strictly a matter of preference. The same goes with the amount of Adobo sauce you add. It only cooks until it is warmed through.

We made roast pork enchiladas with Vidalia onions rolled up in a tortilla, covered with this sauce, and grated Cheddar cheese. It’s a quick and easy meal, which only needs to be baked until the sauce bubbles. After that it’s time to swine away.

Fifteen Tomatoes

Ripe in May!

It’s been almost a hundreds years since scientists discovered that ethylene gas could artificially ripen fruit. That’s the reason why most supermarket tomatoes taste like yuk. They’re green tomatoes, turned fake red, and sold as “vine ripened.” There are very limited penalties for lying, especially in the food industry.

That’s why I am officially declaring war on Big Tomato. ( I have previously declared war on Big Chicken.) In the spirit of ’76, I now have 76 tomato plants, with more seedlings probably coming. I have fifteen varieties, which I will list below.

Maters, Precious

Plants in the ground–We found a great seller only about four miles away. These are all new varieties to us.

Bella Rosa–A hybrid that already has a tomato on it, and is blooming like crazy

Atkinson–Developed at Aw-burn U, the bitter rival of my Crimson Tide

Roma III–Had to buy three of these hybrid Romas, because it is Roma III

Juliet–“It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.” A mini San Marzano! I was going to buy a couple more of these,but I actually bought three more

Roma-the heirloom variety, not the hybrid. Bought at the Festhalle, as were the rest of these. We’ve grown this before, and all of the below

Wild Cherry-the real wild mater.

Brandywine-the classic heirloom, with great tasting maters

Cherokee Purple-Perhaps the classic heirloom Southern variety

Seeds in the ground–Some are our saved seeds, including a couple of chance hybrids. We have grown all of these before also. All these have now germinated

Purple Calabash–The cabernet wine of tomatoes. Ugly and exquisite

Rio Grande–Why an Italian tomato is named Rio Grande, I have no clue

Creole–From LSU, and this is one Ragin’ Cajun, for hot weather. LSU has the craziest fans in college football. They came to T-town one year, their team beat the hide off the Tide, and then one sorority stole most of the furniture out of their sorority sisters’ house on sorority row, and carried it all back to Louisiana. They eventually returned it.

Black Truffle–We love dark colored tomatoes

Amish Paste–Same with the paste tomatoes

Red Cherry–Saved seed, probably Matt’s Wild Cherry, which grows wild in Texas and Mexico.

Hard Round Red Tomato-More than likely a chance hybrid, this plant has some seriously tasty tomatoes

Peppers, Dude

I only have forty something pepper seedlings, so I have a truce with Big Pepper. I do have three more pots of seeds that have yet to germinate. The cease fire could be temporary, and I do eat a bottle of hot jalapenos every month. Everyone has a weakness.

Two Tomatoes, One Pepper

The Heirloom Roma

There is a humorous German term for all the panic buying that has been going on: Hamsterkauf. The literal translation is “Hamster buying,” but the implication is that people are shopping like they are Hamsters.

Having said that, I may require an intervention on the vegetable plant buying front. I’m closing in on seventy tomato plants, and what do I do but buy two more varieties, bringing my total number up to a lucky thirteen. Truthfully, I grew most of the plants myself, but nothing can stop me when it comes to buying heirloom plants.

Yesterday we went to the re-opened Festhalle Farmer’s Market, and on the far end was a woman selling heirloom vegetable plants. That was especially significant considering that it was 43 degrees F, and the north wind was about ten miles an hour, and this is an open air market. Her plants looked very good, so I added two of the all time greats to my tomato roster.

The one at the top is a Roma tomato, which is the classic paste tomato. I have three hybrid Romas already, but usually the taste of the hybrids can’t match that of the original.

Cherokee Purple

My second tomato is the famed Southern variety Cherokee Purple, which came from a seed saver in Tennessee, and was said to have been cultivated by the Cherokee tribe of native Americans. I try and grow at least one of these every year, as the flavor is phenomenal.

Tabasco Short Yellow

This last one is a plant I have not seen before, which I bought at my favorite plant seller’s store on the way home. It’s a fiery hot Tabasco that ripens to yellow fruit instead of red. The Tabasco sauce people once made a yellow sauce, but I think it is no longer available. I will have to make my own fermented sauce with these.

I put Blood Meal in with all these plants. Nothing like pure nitrogen to get them going. Now we need some temps back in the 70’s and 80’s again. When that happens, naturally I will complain that it’s too hot.

Eleven Tomatoes, Six Peppers

Bella, Bella Rosa

When you have nothing else to do, you tend to indulge in excess. Being rusticated for an indeterminate length of time, MJ and myself have gone narting futs with planting our veg. All these plants are just in containers: we haven’t even made it out to our garden yet. How about eleven varieties of tomatoes?

Maters, Precious

Plants in the ground–We found a great seller only about four miles away. These are all new varieties to us.

Bella Rosa–A hybrid that already has a tomato on it, and is blooming like crazy

Atkinson–Developed at Aw-burn U, the bitter rival of my Crimson Tide

Roma III–Had to buy three of these hybrid Romas, because it is Roma III

Juliet–“It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.” A mini San Marzano! Will buy a couple more of these

Seeds in the ground–Some are our saved seeds, including a couple of chance hybrids. We have grown all of these before.

Purple Calabash–The cabernet wine of tomatoes. Ugly and exquisite

Rio Grande–Why an Italian tomato is named Rio Grande, I have no clue

Creole–From LSU, and this is one Ragin’ Cajun, for hot weather. LSU has the craziest fans in college football. They came to T-town one year, their team beat the hide off the Tide, and then one sorority stole most of the furniture out of their sorority sisters’ house on sorority row, and carried it all back to Louisiana with them.. They eventually returned it.

Black Truffle–We love dark colored tomatoes

Amish Paste–Same with the paste tomatoes

Red Cherry–Saved seed, probably Matt’s Wild Cherry, which grows wild in Texas and Mexico.

Hard Round Red Tomato-More than likely a chance hybrid, this plant has some seriously tasty tomatoes

I have two Alma Maters, and now eleven Maters. I also never apologize for a bad pun.

Peppers, Dude

Sweet Banana–We freeze these by the dozen, if they survive our devouring them fresh

Cayenne–No Southern kitchen is complete without a bottle of Cayenne pepper sauce

Poblano–The best mildly hot pepper. Dried when ripe, it makes Ancho powder

Royal Black–A new one, said to be really hot. It goes in the pepper sauce

Early Jalapeno–Early is good

Jalapeno M–A mild Jalapeno. Why did I buy these? They must have been cheap

As the great Neil Young wrote, “Homegrown is the way it should be.” Amen from this corner.

Italian Food in a Tube

Pasta, Please

Having received three books on Tuscan cooking for Christmas, I am now even more against processed or imported food than before, and in favor of nothing but local food. However, there is always an exception to every rule, and these Italian ingredients in a tube are mine. The packaging is minimal, the product stays fresh forever, and these will turn any bland dish into something tasty.

The Pesto paste is basil, sunflower and olive oil, salt, pine nuts, and garlic. Having made pesto in the past with sunflower kernels instead of pine nuts, due to the cost of pine nuts, this is a winner. A small amount of this is all that’s needed in most pasta sauces.

The Garlic puree is, well, pureed garlic with oil. I grow garlic, but sometimes a tube snatched out of the fridge is much easier than chopping and smashing. It is also very inexpensive, and there is no jar to clutter up things.

My favorite, however, is the tomato paste in a tube. Even our local supermarket carries one brand of this. The triple concentrated version in the picture is a superb product. I use it to fortify sauces made from our sometimes watery local tomatoes, instead of cooking the sauce down for an inordinate amount of time. The double concentrated paste will work as well, but has less of a punch.

So there we have the Italian flag, which is often referred to as basil, garlic, and tomato, because of the colors of three favorite Italian ingredients (sometimes mozzarella is used instead of garlic). All this just makes me crave for a pizza margherita.

Festhalle Farmer’s Market

What a Market Should Look Like

While the farmer’s market season is technically over for the year at the Festhalle in Cullman, Alabama, the authorities at Parks and Rec have been convinced to let farmer’s still sell after the official end of the season–for free. The strange thing about this early closure is that anyone who has ever grown any greens, knows this is the prime season for them in this area. Cool weather and abundant moisture make for the best greens, especially collards.

Case in point. This past Saturday was both cold and windy, but our favorite seller was there early in the morning with an assortment of greens. It had been so warm up to this point that he even had tomatoes! Best of all he had what is said to be the largest timber framed structure in the Southeast all to himself.

We loaded up on tomatoes, as we have greens left over from the week before. Then, right behind us, was the brand new tribute to our German roots. A Weihnachtspyramide, and a big one at that.

That’s a Christmas Pyramid

Not satisfied with having the largest timber framed building around, the Mayor and Parks and Rec went straight to the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) in Deutschland, and commissioned this gigantic ornament. It even has a carved replica of Colonel Cullman on the second level from the top. Not only does it dwarf the gazebo behind it, it is documented to be the largest Christmas Pyramid in the US.

Three big guys actually came over from the Erzgebirger to assemble this thing, although while I was reading a version of this story in German, Google translate kicked in, and said there were “woodpeckers” coming over to assemble it. If the woodpeckers looked across the parking lot, this is what they saw on the side of the office for the Festhalle.

Use the ATM so Farmer’s can Get Cash

Judging by the size of them, I would say that they agreed with this sentiment.

The End of Tomato Season

Gather Ye Rosebuds, etc

Make hay while the sun shines, the old saying has it. Our Festhalle Farmer’s Market is down to one seller of fresh tomatoes, and it is time for the frugal to put away food for our admittedly mild winter (This farmer starts his tomato plants every year in January). Our current count is eleven quarts of tomatoes, and four pints as well. Our intention is to add more every weekend until the first freeze.

My specialty is jams and preserves–the serious canning is done by Melanie Jane. Her mother, Agnes Olga, was such a planner that she had index cards with the exact quantities of every vegetable to preserve written on them, to prepare the family for the winter. We just preserve whatever we can.

That giant twenty two quart pressure cooker/canner was actually a gift from a colleague at a college I taught at years ago. He literally was the foreign language department there, as he taught both French and German. Most of my vocabulary of German obscenities came from him as well. There is nothing like a well rounded scholar.

Zen and the Art of the Southern Tomato Sandwich

Mayo, Creole French Bread, Homestead Heirloom Tomato, and a pair of Buddhist cookbooks. Is this why Bodhidharma went to China?

Robert Pirsig, author of the fascinating and riveting book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, literally had a breakdown trying to answer the question of, What is quality? If only he had known about a really good tomato sandwich. This three ingredient sandwich is the equivalent of Southern Zen–if done properly. Here’s how I make it.

Ingredients

Heirloom Tomatoes, preferably home or locally grown

Sliced and Toasted Creole French Bread

Mayonnaise (I will learn to make this one day, with the hope that I don’t become as obsessed by it as Julia Child did)

Simple? Yes, but everything depends on the quality of the ingredients. Most generic recipes sound like they are stuck in the 1970’s. Here’s the usual.

Ingredients

Supermarket Tomatoes

White Sliced Bread (the kind that comes in a plastic bag)

Mayonnaise

So much is wrong here, that it is difficult to know where to start. I will begin with the low hanging fruit. I had students tell me that they didn’t like tomatoes, after I brought up this controversial sandwich. My immediate question was, Have you ever had a tomato that didn’t come from the supermarket? The answer was always no.

The reason for their response is that essentially all supermarket tomatoes, despite their appearance, are green. The practice of gassing tomatoes with ethylene became commonplace in the 1970’s, and ethylene is a gas that turns green tomatoes red, even though they are still completely unripe. Try a slice of that on your BLT, and tell me what you think of tomatoes.

As far as bread in a plastic bag goes, first, buy as few things packed in plastic as you can. That white bread is practically embalmed anyway, considering how many preservatives it has in it. Topped with a good tomato that sandwich will still be good, as another major ingredient of that white bread is air, which is pumped into the dough.

There are all sorts of superfluous additions to this sandwich, but I only consider three to be appropriate.

Salt

Olive Oil

Fresh Basil

If you want to add something like avocado, knock yourself out. Just don’t call it a tomato sandwich. Your zen is all gone. One of my favorite zen riddles has to do with the master who asked a novice the meaning of zen. The novice said that all was emptiness. The master just grabbed a stick, and gave the student a giant whack, which made the student really angry.

The master just said, “If all is emptiness, then were does your anger come from?” Enough said.