Wednesday, 10 August 2016 11:48

Seeing red in the summer

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Ever since a farmyard refugee arrived on our doorstep back in June, already two feet tall with strong, flexible limbs, we’ve made countless trips to the backyard, pail in hand, intent on fattening her up for dinner.

“Just think of all that red meat!” I whispered, giddy with anticipation.
“Shh,” hushed Chefhusband. “Don’t you know? They thrive better with kind words. You don’t want to stunt her growth.”
And so, at least once a day from then on, I made a point of patting her gently and saying nice things.
“My, my. Just look how big you’re growing!” I said.
“Look how plump!”
“So juicy, too!”
“Good girl.”
Of Chefhusband I asked, “What do you think about reading her poetry? Or playing Mozart? I’ve heard Mozart does wonders.”
Chefhusband patted me on the head, carried out another bucket, and left Emily Dickinson and I to sort out our reading schedule.
Days went by. And then weeks. Until one afternoon, as our girl began to swell around the middle, Chefhusband began to sharpen our knives. He also began to plan, down to the last pinch of salt, exactly how we were going to devour our orphan, who had come to us after a farmer discovered one too many in his summer stock.
“A sandwich of some sort. We have to make sandwiches,” I said, pulling back the curtain to peer out the window at next week’s dinner. My hunger was growing just thinking of the soon-coming day.
“Some’s going in a tossed pasta. With fresh goats’ milk cheese,” said Chefhusband, as he conducted an inventory of our fridge and began to make a shopping list. “We’ll need fresh basil. Lots of basil.”
But as it was still just shy of the time, we couldn’t afford to be hasty. A too-soon harvest would ruin everything.
And so, in addition to all the tender words and Mozart our girl could ever want, was all the food, water and sunlight she needed to fatten into fullness.
Back in the beginning, after all, a persistent June rain had seemed intent on making us all hunker under the balcony, and we’d begun to think of bringing our girl inside. A recipe to thwart all recipes, if ever there was one.
When in July, the sun finally came out and dried things off, then burned intensely for weeks on end, there was nothing to stop the plumping effect of such a healthy environment. Our orphan was a sun-sucker, thriving in her habitat.
“Look! Lookit!” I said, now well into August, squinting into the heat haze, in which our girl had spent the day basking. “Is it time?!”
A moment later, a loaf of bread and a cutting board was on the kitchen counter, along with soft balls of mozzarella and freshly-clipped basil leaves.
Then, without so much as a moment’s hesitation, Chefhusband strode outside, did what needed doing, and returned with a perfectly plump, ripe, red tomato in each hand.
“I think she’ll give us at least four more,” he said. “After that, we’ll have to go to the Farmers’ Market.”
By the time September arrives, our little tomato plant will have long since given up her goods. Several green tomatoes will likely remain, but in the shortening days, there’s little chance they’ll begin to blush.
With farm tomatoes in full season, though, and until we’ve had our fill of every last sandwich, salsa, soup, sauce and salad, our cutting boards will continue to run red with juice.
Meanwhile, we’re making plans for next year.
I intend to see how two plants thrive on readings of Susan Musgrave’s Tomatoes in the Windowsill After Rain. And then, of course, when they’re plump with sun and words, I will nod to Chefhusband, who will lead the plants to slaughter.

Broiled tomato sandwiches with fresh mozzarella
4 slices crusty Italian or sourdough bread (wide slices from a boule)
2 Tbs mayonnaise
2 Tbs basil pesto
2-3 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced
2 balls fresh mozzarella (thinly sliced bocconcini)
8 fresh basil leaves
flaked kosher salt/freshly ground pepper

Spread each slice of bread on one side with mayonnaise and pesto. Layer with tomatoes, basil and slices of bocconcini. Season.
Place on a tray and set under a broiler until cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve open-faced.

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