Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2012: A Good Year for Tomatoes

October 13th is a tad early for a first frost in Allentown, PA. But there it was decorating blades of grass and dusting the few fallen leaves. The 28° blast of cold air was decisive. It blackened pepper leaves and wilted the few tomato plants that managed to escape the blight. Last year the temperature didn’t drop below freezing until October 29th, and even on that late date the frost was spotty. 

When gardeners express their sadness during this season of drawn-out dying, others invariably respond with something like, “but it’s the best season of the year! The air is crisp, and the colors are beautiful.” True. But …

Skipping past the details of the list of losses (sultry evenings on the patio, the promises of buds, early morning gardening sessions), I will move right to praising the bounty. 2012 was a very good year—for tomatoes. 

Rather than trust the weather to bring rains when rains are needed, and sun to dry the leaves and protect them from disease-bearing spores, I planted most of the tomato plants at the Glasbern Inn under cover this year, with drip irrigation. And what a difference that measure of control made! A few even escaped this week’s frost.

In this beautiful pile: Brandywine, Evergreen, Zebra striped, Costoluto, Purple Cherokee, Mariana, Carmello.
Brandywines were full and ribbed and pink; Purple Cherokees practically (but not!) bursting. Sungolds in the upper garden cracked while those in three crowded rows in the open-ended cold frame continued unchecked through heat, drought, and rain. Costolutos were picture-perfect! By mid-September Chef Yianni was crying out for mercy. He had created a masterful salad that showcased the colors and ribs of the giant heirlooms. He had smoked the greenhouse Arbasons and Mariana reds and transformed them into a unique, amazing ketchup. He had skinned and jarred Sungolds and Black Cherries by the thousands. 

He was exhausted.

When October 13th arrived with its season-ending shot, we had already moved on. Celery root and salsify, savoy and cone-headed cabbage, arugula and mizuna, carrots of all colors, and beautiful heads of Nevada and Two Star lettuces now fill our bi-weekly cart. Oh there are still a dozen or two summer stragglers. You might think the fall tomatoes would be cherished, but we’re over them, and that goes for the peppers and the eggplants too. Until next year. 

Spring. Beautiful spring, bursting with promise, surging with energy. Tomato seedlings will fill the greenhouse; bumblebees will seek out the yellow flowers. My list of favorites will have expanded to include newcomers with enticing descriptions. 
Carmello: an OP tomato developed in France

One thing is certain. The list will include a medium-sized French red by the name of Carmello. Tasty, reliable, ultra productive, and a necessary part of my latest kitchen challenge—creating the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich. 

But that’s a story for another time.

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