Frost is forecast in our area of Nebraska for tonight, so this morning little Mack and I headed out to the garden to do the last picking of the delicate crops. Poor Amalia was under the weather and missed it all. It was overcast, windy, and cold and Mack and I both would have rather been sitting indoors next to the wood stove, reading our respective good books and sipping hot cups of tea, but no. There were lots of tomatoes, peppers, and basil out there that would likely perish this very night, so out we went.
I used to do this final picking in a very thorough manner, picking every single last tomato, ripe and juicy or hard and green–I wasn’t going to let a single thing go to waste!–and every single pepper, no matter how immature or snerly, then I’d carefully squirrel them away someplace dark and cool, and then immediately forget about them until one of the kids would remark one day in early spring that there was a box of rotten tomatoes in the basement, and that it was starting to stink, too (oops).
But now perhaps I value the fresh garden pickings more than I used to, and also I’ve learned a few things over the years. I follow some self-made guidelines for picking and storage, to wit:
- I pick any tomato that is turning color or is ripe, and use it up as soon as possible: hooray, I have just enough for one more batch of salsa!
- I only pick and save the green tomatoes that are of a good size, and are flawless. Flawed or cracked or bird-pecked green tomatoes will spoil before they ripen, and basically aren’t worth the trouble. You can quote me on that, Gentle Reader.
- I put my green tomatoes in boxes, one layer deep, in a cool spot, using them as they begin to ripen, and/or tossing to the chickens the ones that turn in the other direction.
- I ignore the cheeky chickens that are cheering for the tomatoes that are starting to spoil. “Go bad! Go BAD! Go BAAAAAD!”
- With temperatures in the 50s, your green tomatoes will ripen in 3-4 weeks. Lower temperatures will result in lower quality tomatoes. Higher temps (you guessed it) will help your tomatoes ripen faster.
- Don’t, under any conditions, place your homegrown tomatoes in the refrigerator. Just don’t.
- Your tomatoes ripened off-the-vine won’t be as tasty as the ones that ripened on the vine, but they’ll still be better than store-bought, Gentle Reader, and you can quote me on that point, too. 🙂 I like it when I’m having a quotable day.
And the peppers? They can be left in a cool spot, too, and left to ripen if they aren’t yet the color that you were hoping for. But keep an eye on them, too, lest they succumb to bugs or whatnot and turn to the Dark Side.
I asked little Mack to come help, and handed him a bucket. He’s built nicely close to the ground, after all, and there are lots of cherry tomatoes down on his level, and since I learned all about lycopene, I wasn’t going to let them all go to the chickens, for Pete’s sake. “Fill up this bucket with cherry tomatoes,” I said sweetly, “and then you may go.”
Now just a quick note: there is this mistaken notion floating around that my children never misbehave. Pardon me while I clean up the bulletproof coffee that I just sprayed all of the computer screen (not really, honey, relax). Here’s anecdotal evidence that my children–especially this particular one–are just as ornery and stubborn and sometimes even as difficult as anybody else’s, bless them.
And you can quote me on that.
Mack complained and groaned and kicked his toe into the mud (it had rained the night before). “I don’t want to pick tomatoes,” he said, “I want to go ride my bike!”
I fixed him with a steely stare. There were hundreds (perhaps thousands) of cherry tomatoes hanging right in front of his nose. This was the easiest chore that I could ever ask him to do. I wasn’t letting him out of it. I knew that I had to outstubborn my stubborn son. Not an easy task, but I was having a good day. I was up to the task.
“Fill the bucket,” I reminded him “and then you can go ride your bike. Stop complaining now, and start picking!”
“Plink-plunk-plunketyplinketyplinketyplunk!” went the tomatoes into my bucket.
I stripped handful after handful of cherry tomatoes off the vine. Mack moaned and sighed and cast longing glances at his little bike, just on the other side of the garden fence.
“Plink . . . .” went a tomato into his bucket. After about twelve seconds, I heard him let out a moan.
“Mommmm!” he moaned. “It’ll take me FOREVER to pick a bucketful of THESE!” Of course my son had found the tiniest spray of the tiniest currant tomatoes in my garden and was picking them. What a cheeky lad.
“For Pete’s sake, don’t pick the tiniest ones you can find,” I chided him, “there are plenty of bigger ones than THAT. Pick the big ones!”
But his moaning didn’t stop, and his picking didn’t resume.
“I’m cold. It’s windy! I’m . . . so . . . . so . . . hungry!!” he moaned, piteously. I turned my deaf ear towards my cold hungry windbeaten (stubborn) little boy . . . and walked to a different row of tomato plants, thinking that if he wasn’t right next to me, he’d put his energies into picking tomatoes and not into fabricating new things to complain about.
And that’s when I spotted the dead opossum.
Then the mood of the picking party turned. The sun came out. The wind stopped its tireless journey across the plains. All yawning hunger was stifled. We found a dead opossum.* The day would be a fine one, after all.
A young opossum had drowned in a bucket of rainwater. From the looks of things, we decided that he had perhaps been leaning down, down, down for a drink, lost his footing, and then couldn’t get out. Because we regularly trap opossums here at our place, and I’ve actually found one, more than once, in the chicken coop with a dead chicken in its mouth, we’re not fond of these overgrown rodents here. In fact when we were having our summer-long tussle with the Dreaded Varmint last year, it was a big (very well fed) opossum that we finally caught in our live trap.
But it always makes me sad to see a little baby of any species, dead. We pulled the little guy out of the rainwater and studied him for a time. We both felt a small measure of sadness over his untimely demise. We took pictures.
“Maybe this day won’t be a total loss, after all,” said my reluctant tomato picker. “It’s pretty cool to find a dead baby opossum, huh? Sad. But cool.”
I agreed. Then we both went back to picking, and Mack chattered happily while he filled his bucket. Most of the way full, anyway. It’s pretty amazing what that little dead opossum did to his spirits. Don’t ask me why. Please don’t ask me why.
Have you ever fried green tomatoes up for dinner? Here’s how I like to make them. It’s a good way to use up a few of your green tomatoes, and a good way to experiment with your new coconut oil addiction. 🙂
- 4 large green tomatoes, sliced ½" thick, ends thrown to the chickens
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup milk
- 1 cup white whole wheat (or unbleached) flour
- ½ cup cornmeal
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
- coconut oil
- confectioner's sugar (optional)
- Slice tomatoes ½ inch thick. Discard the ends.
- Whisk eggs and milk together in a medium-size bowl. Scoop flour onto a plate.
- Mix eggs and milk in bowl.
- Put flour on a plate, and then mix cornmeal, bread crumbs and salt and pepper on another plate. Dip tomatoes into flour to coat. Then dip the tomatoes into milk and egg mixture. Dredge in breadcrumbs to completely coat.
- In a large skillet, melt coconut oil (enough so that there is ½ inch of oil in the pan) and heat over a medium heat. Place tomatoes into the frying pan in batches of 4 or 5, depending on the size. Don't crowd those tomatoes! When the tomatoes are browned, flip and fry them on the other side. Drain them on paper towels. A dusting of confectioner's sugar elevates this dish to a sweet treat, and may coax your reluctant eaters to try it. 😉
Oooh, these are so good you’re gonna want to go out and strip your tomato vines, frost coming or no, just so you can make them!
- Best way to store turnips for winter & a fabulous roasted root recipe!
- It’s true! Backyard chicken eggs are more nutritious!