Monday, August 31, 2009

Tomato gardening in the extreme San Fernando Valley heat…by 8 am this morning the temperature read 98 degrees. Already the plants, which appeared to have recovered nicely from yesterday’s temperature of 108 degrees, were beginning to droop. I decided to rearrange the shade cloth to help shield even more of the plants from what promised to be another very hot afternoon. It’s the tomatoes in containers that seemed to have the toughest time. The cucumbers and peppers, also in containers seemed to need extra protection. In order for the shade cloth to protect more plants I first had to relocate many of the pots. They needed to be much closer together to benefit from the lengths of cloth that I had on hand. Moving them is scary to me…I imagine that under the rims of each pot resides a very happy, healthy family of black widow spiders. Not sure whether or not spiders can bite through gardening gloves I decide not to take a chance but rather try to push the pots with my knees to their new destination. It’s not a perfect plan but it’ll do.

Late this afternoon I ventured back to the vegetable garden and found that the plants looked much better than they did at the same time yesterday. Maybe it was the shade cloth or maybe the temperature was a little lower or maybe it was my reward for not having disturbed the spiders. The tomatoes didn’t cook on the plants and the plants didn’t look more like weeping willows than tomatoes.

I picked only a few tomatoes to bring in for tasting. Today when I tasted Copia it was a completely different tomato than it was last week. It appeared to be happier with a bit more heat. It was beautifully colored , both inside and out. Copia is more spotty on the outside than Pineapple and the inside is similar without the red starburst at the center. The flavor was smooth and sweet. Definitely could be today’s winner…Barnes Mountain Yellow, with its beautiful orange and green striped skin tasted, well, like “just a tomato”. Aunt Ruby’s German Green which really hasn’t produced much turned out to be a delicious surprise. It was a small green ball and I wasn’t sure it was ready to be picked. I knew this was supposed to be a beefsteak tomato. It felt a little soft so I thought it would be better to let it ripen on the kitchen counter rather than cook on the plant. But once inside I decided to take a chance and ate it instead. What a great decision to have made. The unexpected delight called Aunt Ruby’s German Green has to be today’s favorite tomato.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Today is day two of what is expected to be a four day period of extreme heat. The area of Woodland Hills that I call home tends to get about 10 degrees hotter than anywhere else in the zipcode and it also happens to get 10 degrees colder in winter. Last summer we hit 115 degrees and we've had snow three times in the 20 years I've lived here.

The mild weather that we've been enjoying until now allowed the tomato plants to burst into flower bringing great joy and anticipation of a second round of delicious tomatoes. But when it gets this hot the heat can sterilize all of the, with the forecasted heat comes a sense of sadness and certain amount of fear. My tomato season cannot end so soon and abruptly!

Day before yesterday I triple soaked the plants and placed some 50% shade cloth over a few of the plants. I didn't have enough cloth to cover them all so I decided to protect the ones with tomatoes growing that were exposed and might be scalded by the sun's burning rays. When I went out this morning to check on the tomatoes I found that all of the plants in the ground looked happy. Besides the tomatoes the squash was upright and looked as if it had grown considerably since it started to warm up. The cucumbers were full and reaching for the sun. Only the tomatoes in containers were droopy, which I expected. At this point in the season they are asking for water every two days. In spite of the heat, we remained on schedule and I gave the potted tomatoes are long drink. I decided to rotate the shade cloth so that every day different plants are shielded from the sun so that none will be roasting for several consecutive days.

I chose three tomatoes to sample this morning and ate them in the garden as I was hanging the shadecloth. Dixie Golden Giant was very tart this morning. It may have been a little premature to eat this tomato. It was a little firmer than usual but I just took a bite without thinking about it first. Next, I tried a pink, almost beefsteak sized tomato that was labeled Reisentraube. After looking at some photos and reading descriptions I have to assume that this tomato was labeled incorrectly. In any case, the tomato was fine but nothing special. It really had no outstanding characteristics to describe. Last, I ate a Green Grape - one of very favorite tomatoes. It's an oval fruit, in the size range of cherry tomatoes and is definitely green. When ripe there's a hint of gold in the green and the tomato has just the tiniest amount of "give" in your hand.It is always a sweet surprise. Without question, Green Grape is definitely today's favorite.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Today's favorite was a delightful way to start the day...Suncherry!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Today began like any other day. I strolled out to the garden to say good morning to the tomatoes. Don't worry, I extend the same greeting to the roses, and veggies and mess that the dog left along the way. I have a few other choice words for the latter, as well. Happily (and I hope I don't jinx anything by saying this) I found no new signs of hornworms on any of the plants. Everything looked happy and healthy, requiring nothing of me at that moment, so I began picking a few tomatoes. I planned to take them to a meeting this morning. So much for my plans...

After taking a few tomatoes off the plants I set them all in one spot in the soil, keep harvesting and then I come back with a bowl or basket to carry them inside. That's what I usually do...

Today I decided to forgo the bowl and lined the fruits of my labor along my bent arm from my elbow to the palm of my hand. It reminded me of holding my twins, who were very small when they were born, on my forearm. My babies were all lined up and I had to add a second layer to get them all on. As I was picking up the last few to add them to my arm a hummingbird zoomed in - right past my ear. I turned quickly and dropped a tomato. I would have picked it up and replaced it but in came another hummingbird, this one dive bombing at my head and right towards the remaining tomatoes in the pile. I yelled at the attacking birds, "Hey, these are my tomatoes"! They sure got the better of me! As I turned to make my escape and get my fruit safely into the house yet another hummingbird flew in, buzzing my ear again and causing me to drop my entire armful of tomatoes! One by one I collected them and carefully lined them back up on my arm. We were safe except for the few tomatoes that were squished upon impact. As I carried them in my arms and held them gently across my chest I enjoyed a bath of tomato juice and seeds.

Not wanting to waste any, I decide to use the three best of the squished tomatoes for my tasting. Usually done later in the day, today the tasting was complete by 9 in the morning. Let me suggest that when enjoying a breakfast of tomatoes you also have a slice of bread. No matter how sweet they may be it's a little hard on an early morning stomach.

I began with Kellogg's Breakfast a large, orange, solid tomato. It's similar to Persimmon which I chose as yesterday's favorite. It's really delicious. The flavor is sweet and almost peach like. The meat is very firm and not seedy. This tomato is so dense it could be a meal all by itself. Morado is a dark, mysterious tomato. It has a bit of a smoky flavor and is more watery than I like. I'm not quite sure how to use it. I accidentally planted two of these side by side and really wish I planted two of something else that I like a whole lot better. My last taste for today was Jetsetter. These are perfectly round, deep red, smooth tomatoes that are absolutely gorgeous and they look like an apple. When you first bite into this tomato you taste the plant. There's something "green" about it - not unripe, but something about the first taste tells you it comes straight for the earth. For me, that's incredibly satisfying. The flavor then gives way to a wonderful, classic, red tomato taste with just the right balance of sweet and tart. I first decided to plant Jetsetter because the name reminded me of my Mom, who went everywhere, did everything and knew everyone. For personal reasons, beauty and flavor, I chose Jetsetter as today's favorite. Just a little tribute to my Mom...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Today is the day that I dread every summer...I know it will come because it does every year but it's always a little heart wrenching. Every morning I go outside to check on the tomato plants. If the leaves are drooping in the morning it means they need water. If they look perky and upright before 10 am I know not to turn on the hose - no matter how they may look in the afternoon! This morning the plants looked great. They're happy, as I am, that the gray mornings seem to be a thing of the past. As I reached into a Sungold Cherry to take my first bite of the day I noticed something on the ground. It looked like bunches of small black beads. If you're a needlepointer, as I am, you know exactly how it looked. After all these years I know that this can only mean one thing...that the dreaded Hornworm has arrived in my garden. Sure enough, I found the stem that had once been lush with leaves completely bare. That was all the confirmation I needed and so the search began. It took some time but the small green worm that so perfectly matched the color of the leaves was discovered and done away with.

Tonight I sampled three tomatoes - Persimmon, Black Krim, and Copia. Copia is multi colored, more spotty than a smooth blending of colors. I expected this tomato to have a smooth flavor but was really quite surprised. It's not overly acidic but there's definitely a tartness when you first take a bite. The flavor mellows in your mouth but the seed sacs are quite watery so I didn't love this one. Black Krim, which I tried and didn't like last week, remains the same. I guess it could be good in salsa but it's a huge plant with small tomatoes that become over ripe way too quickly. As far as I'm concerned it's a waste of prime garden real estate. By now you've probably guessed that Persimmon is today's favorite. Persimmon is a beautiful, large, orange, smooth-skinned tomato - it's really quite attractive. They hold their shape and firmness well. Inside, the meat is solid and dense and you get a lot of flavor with not too much seed. There's enough acid to know you're eating a tomato and just the right amount of sugar to make it delicious. It's a perfect balance of flavor.

As promised, a photo of yesterday's favorite - Orange Strawberry.
Today's winner?? You'll have to wait...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wow! I must have been in the mood for a I decided to choose between some really great tomatoes. There are so many that I love for different reasons. Some are better in salads, some make better soup. Some are just better for plucking off the plant and popping into your mouth. And some are big and juicy and taking a bite of them is a drippy, messy, wonderful pleasure! I just couldn't help myself...I went out back and picked Chocolate Stripes, Orange Strawberry, Old German and Dona.

A few days ago when I sampled Old German I found it to be somewhat disappointing. But I had a feeling it was my fault - I didn't pick it at it's prime. Today's Old German did not disappoint. Like the Pineapple, it's another incredibly beautiful bi colored tomato. The meat is as colorful as the skin. When you first take a bite there's a kind of wow factor! It's not tart but there's a little tang just before the smooth mellow flavor takes over.It was good! Orange Strawberry looks just like it's name suggests. I'll post a photo of this adorable and aptly named fruit tomorrow. It has a strong flavor - it really packs a punch. But it didn't overwhelm and for a strong flavored tomato I really liked it. I have been told in the past that Dona is a really wonderful tomato. I'll have to take somebody else's word for it. The one I picked wasn't great. It was like a little red baseball, but to be fair, I think it was over done. Strangely, the other tomatoes on this plant are still green. It's one of the plants I put in rather late. This fruit was dark red but hard as a rock. Great catfaced markings, though. I'll try these again when the rest of them ripen. Lastly, I sampled Chocolate Stripes. It's a bold looking tomato, orangey red with green stripes. It's as striking to look at as it is to eat. The flavor is solid. It's not mellow but it's somewhat subtle. The intense flavor kind of sneaks up on you.

Naming a favorite today is not easy. But since I get to name a different one as my favorite tomorrow it will be easier to choose. Old German would be a predictable choice. It's similar to Pineapple, my all-time favorite. I am most fond of mellow tomatoes. Dona will have to wait for it's day of glory. Today isn't it. I seem to recall naming Chocolate Stripes my favorite about a week ago, so for today, it has to be Orange Strawberry!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I had a phone call from a friend today asking whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. Immediately I blurted out, "it's a fruit!" But, it turned out I wasn't sure why. In fact, I was way off base...

So I did a bit of research and here is what I learned: tomatoes are considered to be a fruit - scientifically! That's because the tomatoes grow from seeds within an ovary at the base of the flower. However, tomatoes are also considered to be vegetables because that's how they are primarily used. Two schools of thought, both correct. So make your choice, as long as it's to keep enjoying home grown tomatoes.

Today's favorite - Snow White Cherry!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Did you notice that I didn't choose a favorite yesterday? To be honest, the gray sky had me feeling so low that nothing tasted good to me. Not french fries, not cookies, not even tomatoes.

But, I woke up this morning to bright sunshine. I jumped out of bed, threw up the sash...wait, wrong story, wrong season...I got out of bed with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm to meet the morning. First order of the day was to get some exercise so I went for a walk. Besides, I had a lot on my mind and decided that walking would help me get some things resolved. What walking really does is clear my mind, so I returned home from my walk pondering the same unanswered questions I had before I hit the pavement. After a tall glass of ice water I headed for the garden. I decided to harvest before it got too warm. Anything close to ready had to come in for fear of little critters enjoying my tomatoes for their next meal. And I carefully selected those varieties that I would compare for today's taste test.

Today, I did my taste test a little differently. I chose to include a selection of my favorite tomatoes rather than some of the new varieties. I also decided to include four in the test rather than the usual three. This ought to make up for yesterday.

First, Carmelo - a reliable, medium sized red globe. It's a standard tomato. Better than those you would buy in the grocery store, fine on a green salad but still, just a tomato. Then I cut into Dixie Golden Giant - Wow! A bit on the tangy side, this beautiful gold tomato, not as giant as the name implies, really packed a punch...not too much, rather just enough to wake you up. Definitely in the running. Third, I tried Old German. This is a tomato that last week was delicious and I suspect that, even though it felt perfect when I picked it this morning, spent too much time on the plant. Today it was mealy and I didn't even bother with a second bite. Last, I tried a beautiful, softly multi-colored, multi faceted, fairly large fruit. I've been waiting patiently for these to be ready to pick. Not an easy thing for me to do. I wanted to pick these tomatoes at just the right time and hoped that the squirrels didn't find them as attractive as I did. Luck was on my side as I cut three perfect tomatoes from the plant and immediately brought them inside, out of the sun. I didn't want anything to spoil them. Cutting into this tomato is a visual delight. Each wedge is soft yellow and peach and then bright red. But the real beauty of this tomato is in it's flavor - smooth and mellow, cool and comforting. It's an understated but incredible pleasure. There is no way to eat this tomato without making a little sigh of heavenly delight. Time and again, the Pineapple tomato, is nothing short of absolute perfection.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On any given day during the summer my kitchen becomes somewhat overtaken by tomatoes. I make salads and gazpacho, panzanella and salsas, and still the counter tops are completely covered with the fruits of my labor. I would not be exaggerating if I said there are days when finding a place to set down a glass is next to impossible.

Today I decided "Enough is enough"! I walked into the kitchen and felt somewhat surrounded by tomatoes in every stage of ripeness from absolute perfection to that point just before they begin to rot. For as many tomatoes as I have used, there are twice as many waiting to be consumed.

So, I decided to get cooking. I dug out my apron, a darling vintage print depicting a rainbow of tomatoes, and headed for the stove. I chopped what seemed to be the majority of the tomatoes along with onions, bell peppers, garlic, celery, cucumbers and various fresh herbs. I made the customary pot of gazpacho. No matter how often I make it, my gazpacho is always in demand. Then I finely chopped the collection of black tomatoes for salsa. I added corn to some of it to make a hearty salsa and watermelon and raspberry vinegar to another bowlful to make a sweet, delicate salsa. I chopped the Martino's Roma tomatoes to make a traditional sauce to put in the freezer. I inspected the remainder of the tomatoes and coarsely chopped every one that seemed like it might not be at it's optimal best. Right now they're simmering in the dutch oven with onions, celery, peppers and garlic. I'll reduce that down to a sauce and pop it in the freezer for the dismal winter days when I'm craving tomatoes.

In spite of all this culinary endeavor I find the kitchen counter still covered in red, orange and yellow balls of glory! What a delicious problem to have! If you wonder where I'll be tomorrow you can be sure it will be one of two the kitchen trying some new tomato recipes or even more likely, in the garden harvesting more tomatoes!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

After all these years I have finally managed to successfully grow a Green Zebra tomato. I'm not sure what I've done differently, in fact, I don't think I've really changed a thing. Happily, I harvested the first one today. It's a beautiful tomato, bright green with dark green stripes. The meat of the tomato is just as incredibly beautiful as the skin. The taste - not sweet and mellow like most of my favorites. Green Zebra has a WOW! factor. It's fabulous and officially named today's favorite. It was worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A strange thing happened in the garden yesterday...absolutely nothing. I never went out there. I woke up Monday morning and it was cold and gray and gloomy. I was depressed even before I got out of bed. It was just like the December mornings when I wake up and the only thing I can think is that I need to go to the sun. I think the official name is Seasonal Affective Disorder...I just call it seasonal depression. I need the sun to shine to feel alive and energetic.

When I awoke at 6:15 this morning the sky was again cold and gray and gloomy. Today I forced myself to get out of bed and marched out to the vegetable garden. I could smell the wet grass, an unfamiliar scent for an August morning. Snails were lively and alert rather than basking in their warm shells. The tomatoes were bright and upright but their leaves were damp. I began to have visions of fall, when the tomatoes are winding down, production slows and hornworms appear. I know the end of the season is nearing because I ignore the worms and just let them eat my leaves.

I left the garden and went to work, returning late in the afternoon. I was thrilled to see that the weather had warmed enough to cause the plants to droop. is still summer and the tomatoes are far from finished! I made my way through the rows of plants to be sure that nothing needed immediate attention, making mental notes of some things I'll need to address on the weekend. A hole in the chicken wire and stakes that need to be extended. Regular maintenance tasks for a garden enthusiast.

My first nibble of the afternoon was a Suncherry Extra wasn't! Just next to this plant is a Sungold Cherry loaded with beautiful orangey gold fruit. I couldn't resist and enjoyed a few delicious bites. I could have easily named Sungold Cherry as my favorite but that would have been redundant. I'll allow myself to repeat but not just yet. Continuing on, I munched on mostly small varieties - Black Cherry, an uncharacteristically small Carmelo and an unimpressive White Beauty. One of the varieties that I am growing for the first time this year is a small, just larger than a pea sized, orange gold tomato which has proven to be a little bite of perfection. And so, my favorite today is a wonderful little tomato called Jenny.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Favorite tomato today...
Always a favorite, it's like a little piece of candy and never disappoints - Sungold Cherry!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Never say never...

Early this morning I went to the nursery to pick up a few things...a new sprayer for the hose, a couple of bags of potting soil, and a couple of seedlings. I managed to kill an Armenian cucumber seedling. Actually, it's more like I forgot about it. It got watered at the same time the tomatoes did...which, at this stage in the growing season and 100 degree weather, was about twice a week. Not enough for a little baby cucumber!! So, rather than beat myself up about it I decided to go buy another and start again.

There were no cucumber plants to buy. Ok, I'll's not like I killed a tomato plant or something. So, I decided maybe I'll put in a couple more Royal Burgundy beans. They are so incredible - dark purple on the outside and bright, spring green on the inside. There were no beans to buy. In fact, in the veggie department I had a choice only as long as I wanted to choose from the various pepper plants they had to sell. I'm not a pepper girl so I turned to leave in disgust.

But there, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of three lonely tomato plants, relegated to a corner of the garden, just begging me to take them home! How could I resist?! I decided to choose only one - one was missing it's name tag, the next was Jetsetter, one of my favorites but I have two already and they are loaded with fruit. The remaining plant was Siberia. I have always said that there is no point in planting "cold weather" tomatoes in Woodland Hills. Nothing with a name that sounds like it came from somewhere in Eastern Europe. It just won't work. No - never! In our canyon temperatures soar higher than anywhere else in the Valley. But there it was, begging for a home like a sad puppy dog. (I know that sad eyed look well - I have a Basset Hound) and I just couldn't leave it behind. Besides, I really needed to buy something.

Needless to say, I'm now the proud owner of a cold season tomato. I'll plant it tomorrow and the grand experiment will begin...we'll see.

Oh yeah - today's favorite??

I was outside, watering, staking, harvesting - all the fun stuff I left for the weekend. I knew I needed to do some tasting so I could name my favorite tomato of the day. i decided to be rather bohemian about the whole thing, grabbed tomatoes off a couple of plants and did my taste test right there in the backyard. No fork and knife. Didn't even rinse the skins.I just bit in!

My favorite tomato today was one with a delightful name, a perfect oval shape and beautiful red skin. It's flavor was lively and fun without being tangy. Today's favorite - Enchantment!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The weather is uncharacteristically mild for mid-August which I can immediately see when I step outside. Hummingbirds are playful, bees are very busy and many of the vegetables which appeared tired just a few days ago are setting new flowers. This morning everything was quite perky. The garden looked more like mid spring than mid summer. That's a good thing...mid spring is a time of excitement and anticipation to a tomato gardener. Could this be the sign of an extended growing season? I can only hope, although here in Woodland Hills our growing season is rather long anyway. Just ask my sister in Ellensburg, Washington. I think she got her first ripe cherry tomato last week and in a week or two they'll be preparing for snow!

Today my early morning snack included a variety of cherry tomatoes - Sungolds, of course, Chiquita, Jenny, Green Grape and my possible new favorite, BiColor cherry.

This afternoon I decided to sample four varieties...Aunt Ruby's German Green, Black Krim, Persimmon and Momotaro. Aunt Ruby's is a small-ish tomato and is green when ripe. I always like to have green tomatoes because they look incredible on a platter of thick slices. This tomato has a "green" taste to it - which I love. It tastes a little "grassy" - which is sometimes how I describe a great Italian olive oil. It's fresh and alive but not sour or acidic. You just know it came from the earth. Black Krim reminds me of Halloween. It's not a pretty tomato, which is part of it's charm. It's small and has lots of ribs and is one of the so called "black" tomatoes. These make great salsa. The flavor is mild and doesn't offer enough for it to stand on it's own. Again, it would be great in a salsa to serve as a vehicle for a collection of other flavors. Persimmon is a big, beautiful orange tomato that grows on a large and prolific plant. It never fails to deliver a great taste. It's not overly sweet but reminds me of taking a bite of a wonderfully juicy peach. Momotaro is known as the only tomato that will not grow in a container. This year, I finally listened and planted it in the ground. Guess what?? It gave me tomatoes! And they're really good! A good, solid, medium sized red tomato - firm enough that you could hollow it out and stuff it with a yummy filling.

So, my favorite for today?? That's a tough one...but I'm going with (drumroll please) Momotaro!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Anyone who walks into my kitchen these days has to chuckle at the sight of the counter tops - or lack of them! The counters are completely covered in tomatoes. Red, orange and yellow, large, small and mini, bi color and striped, splotchy, ugly and amazingly beautiful tomatoes!

There is one tomato that everyone who walks in feels compelled to pick up, take in it's subtle aroma and rave about it's glorious colors. They are in awe of it's incredible beauty. My son, my photographer, my friends from the needlepoint shop, even the UPS guy cannot say enough about this tomato. As if looks aren't enough, it's a medium size fruit with a huge amount of flavor and character.

Without a doubt, today's favorite for flavor, texture and it's incredible beauty is Chocolate Stripes!

Thursday's favorites...

Anyone who walks into my kitchen these days has to chuckle at the sight of the countertops - or lack of them! The counters are completely covered in tomatoes. Red, orange and yellow, large, small and mini, bicolor and striped, splotchy, ugly and amazingly beautiful tomatoes!

There is one tomato that everyone who walks in feels compelled to pick up, take in it's subtle aroma and rave about it's beautiful skin. They are in awe at it's beauty. My son, my photographer, my friends from the needlepont shop, even the UPS guy cannot say enough about this tomato. As if looks aren't enough, it's a medium size fruit with a huge amount of flavor and character.

Without a doubt, today's favorite for flavor, texture and it's incredible beauty is Chocolate Stripes!

The best of intentions...

When I first began writing this blog I had visions of a daily communication with all of you. I envisioned garden updates and progress reports - a running dialogue. Well, you know what they say about the best of intentions...

Maybe it would be more realistic to post a new entry once a week. The truth is that so much time goes into GROWING the tomatoes that there really aren't enough hours in a day to go to work (thank G_d I love what I do), water, weed, feed, harvest AND sit down and write about it.

Maybe once a month could work...

While I'd love to add to the blog on a very regular basis I really can't guarantee how often that will be. Once a week - maybe. Once a month - yes, I can do that. But in my heart, every day is still what I want to do. So, here's my plan: I'm going to set a huge goal for myself. Yep, I'll say I'm going to write something every day. Now, here's the contingency plan: If I don't have the time or energy to write very much, at the very least I will write each day about my favorites.

I have to admit that I love this plan! It's going to allow me to be really self indulgent and it gives me an out, should I not succeed. I'll sample the tomatoes every morning, just like I always do, and then I'll write a little bit about whatever it is that day that I like the most! Many days I have a new favorite so this should be fun...

Keep reading and keep tasting...