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August 26, 2004

Tomato Sauce

Another from the archives, this one written in 2000 for the Contra Costa Times, where I used to have a garden column. It's not really written in my voice, but instead more in a voice I thought Times readers expected from a columnist - before I relaxed and trusted them to read my stuff properly. But it seems appropriate to post this today.

April 12: Denial.
This year is going to be better. I'll grow enough tomatoes for ten gallons of sauce. Last year was kind of a fluke anyway. Who would have predicted fog from Easter until Labor Day? Besides, we only moved into this place in June. Hardly enough time to grow a radish before autumn. Not this year. Let's see. We got the cherry tomato, two Romas and a Napoli, and a San Francisco Fog, just in case it's a cold summer again, which it won't be. And Cherokee Purple too, even though they need more sun than the others, which we'll have. Besides, this south-facing white wall will reflect a lot of light. Just like having another sun. I hope that's not too many plants: I'd hate to have more tomatoes than we can use. I guess we can always give most of them away. I should plant more basil so that there'll be enough for the sauce come fall. I'll get a couple more sixpacks from the drugstore. Hmmmm. I wonder if I should buy a chest freezer.

May 15: Anger.
Three more seedlings laying flat on the ground this morning, withering. I dug around the severed stems, found the cutworms sleeping off their meal, and killed them. It's justifiable pesticide. And what's this? Snails? You aren't supposed to LIKE tomato plants, you jerks! Get off those leaves! Hey! Time for the old French Airforce treatment. Take that! Ahhhh, seeing them sail over the fence like that almost makes it worth- aaaargh! Not aphids too! They're COVERING the Cherokee Purple! I swear there were no bugs on that plant the other day. And they couldn't have waited until there were leaves to spare. Noooooo. I don't see new growth on any of the plants. It's been sunny and they're just SITTING there, not growing. Except the cherry tomato, which was growing just fine until the neighbor's cat used the garden as a cat box last week and broke off all the stems. I am stupid, stupid, stupid for buying those inferior drugstore tomato plants. Now I have to replace them at that expensive nursery across town. Extortion! And swelpme, if I get my hands on that cat, I'm going to make soup.

May 17: Bargaining.
Feeling a little better than the day before yesterday. Mrs. Burns came by a bit ruffled after one of the snails I threw over the fence landed in her iced tea. I think she'll forgive me if I get her some snapdragons from the nursery today. Maybe I'll pick up an extra tomato plant for her. I bet she'd like a Cherokee Purple. Where's that shopping list? Let's see. Sturdier tomato cages to replace the ones I tripped over: those things sure do bend easily. I can't expect the tomatoes to ripen right unless I give them adequate support, keep them off the ground. And I'll need fertilizer to coax those plants to grow a little bit. Some compost? Steer manure? Maybe some fish emulsion. A little of that in a bucket of water, one bucket for each plant, and they should perk up a bit. I should get one of those deep-root watering hose attachments: I bet the tomatoes would like some water down a foot or so. Maybe some shade cloth: wouldn't want to get any sunscalded fruit. And I can get some of that tomato hormone, then spray each bloom so it'll set fruit. And I'll pick up some copper tape to keep the snails away. And some ladybugs to eat the aphids. Something to eat the snails, maybe? Chickens? I'd need a few yards of chicken wire and a gravity waterer and fifty pounds of scratch… maybe I'll wait to see if the copper tape works.

August 15: Depression.
If I eat one more plate of fried green tomatoes, I will die. I've done everything, and those tomatoes just sit there, bright verdant green, for months now, except for the ones that fall off and rot. I better just face it. I'm a lousy gardener. Everything I touch turns to rotten, crumbling humus. Unless I put it in my compost pile. Still have fresh pumpkins THERE from last Hallowe'en. What did I do wrong? Why does this always happen to me? I can't face the garden today. I just can't go out there. The weeds are too tall, and if I pull them I'll knock more green tomatoes off the vines to rot. And last time I went out the front door, there on the porch was a plate of perfectly ripe Cherokee Purple tomatoes Mrs. Burns grew from the plant I gave her. I think I'll just stay here and eat this zucchini. Oh yeah, I've got plenty of zucchini. No problem at all growing zucchini.

October 28: Acceptance.
What a fall! The tomatoes ripened all at once when I went on vacation in September, but somehow there were enough left when I came back to put a good four or five gallons in the freezer. I cut the basil last week, hauled out the old kettle and put the frozen tomatoes and basil into it, with about three cups of fresh oregano Mrs. Burns gave me - she's a sweet old thing - and a couple of tablespoons of black pepper. I let that sit for a day, fired up the barbecue and roasted some red bell peppers, then stuck them in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Yesterday, the peppers came right out of their skins and went into the kettle, which overflowed a bit, so I took out about a quart and a half, put it in a jar. Thought I could use it for a marinade or something. Good thing too, because after I tasted the sauce - perfect - and put the kettle on a high flame the phone rang. A friend I hadn't heard from in years! What a treat! We talked for at least an hour. The sauce burned hard to the bottom of the kettle, scorched taste permeating the whole pot. I was upset, of course, but you really shouldn't let these things get to you. Besides, I just heated up the rest of the sauce, poured it over some shell pasta with a little olive oil and some shaved asiago, and you know? It tastes way better than I remembered. It's moments like these that make the whole year of gardening worthwhile. I couldn't ask for a better mouthful of tomato sauce.

Still. Next year will be better.

Posted by Chris Clarke at August 26, 2004 11:14 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Well, it's good. It's funny. I relate. You've definitely managed to channel Garrison Keilor, or one of his Lake Woebegon characters. Still, I far prefer your regular voice.

And thanks for the nod to Ms. Kubler-Ross. I'm tempted to crack some awful joke here, but I respect the woman too much. On Death and Dying is sitting on my bedside table.

Posted by: Siona at August 27, 2004 12:50 AM
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