Today I’m grateful for any tomatoes at all. I planted half as many as last year, and they did less than half as well, so I found myself with a decent early crop of ripe tomatoes with which I made a couple of small batches of salsa, and with big expectations for a future which did not come. Yet. Last week I picked all the good-sized green tomatoes because I was nervous about a potential frost, and they are sitting in brown paper bags ripening, I hope. Meanwhile, the basket of ripe tomatoes grew smaller by a fruit or two a day as I was too occupied with other obligations to process them. When I finally got to it today, I roasted them with a couple of paprika peppers and an onion from the garden, as well as a store-bought garlic head. Then I ran them through the food mill to remove skins, and got a delicious thick marinara-ish slurry–but only just over a pint. Last summer I canned quarts and quarts of sauces and salsa. You just never know what you’re gonna get with a garden. I’m grateful for the domestic adventure a garden provides!
Many of Thursday’s tomatoes, above, turned into paste today. These Amish Paste tomatoes ranged from a smallish Roma style to a fat, almost-round fruit weighing half a pound. I grew three of these vines, but one died halfway through the summer. The other two are still ripening fruits, though most of them went into this batch of tomato paste.
I spent most of the day with tomatoes, all the while keeping an eye on Stellar. After our sunrise walk, he slept until after one, napped through the afternoon with a few forays outside, and only since it’s been dark a few hours has he become a bit restless. Meanwhile, the paste tomatoes roasted… then cooled, and then got pureed. Paste is the easiest thing to make–you don’t ever have to peel the tomatoes, just roast, cool, puree, then roast again–but it does take the longest.
The first roast is just halved tomatoes, for about an hour and a half at 350℉. Then the puréed mash roasts another few hours, with stirring every half hour. The mash concentrates over time…
…to a tangy, salty (just a sprinkle of kosher salt on the first roast, but as the tomatoey goodness condenses the ratio changes), sweet tomato essence. The easiest way to preserve and later use it is to freeze it in an ice tray. Once they’re solid, I’ll pop them out and seal them in a freezer bag to use one or two at a time. Each cube is around a heaping tablespoon. I’m grateful today for tomato paste, which kept my mind occupied, my hands busy, and my heart calm. I was present with the process, but it was straightforward enough that I could be equally present with Stellar as he lived through another one of his tenuous last days.
After his scary seizure last night (now his right eyelid droops, too), he slept soundly til morning, and woke eager to walk. His remarkable resilience propelled him to the canyon rim, and he seemed to have the good sense to avoid the very edge. The cottonwoods are half-turned, the ground is dry, and morning air is brisk. Stellar has made it to his thirteenth autumn. I’m grateful to have been present for his puppyness, his magnificent prime, his aging, and with him now as he approaches the far edge of life. He continues to exemplify benevolence, acceptance, loving-kindness, and all the other virtues I aspire to, as he demonstrates the path of presence.
I ate the last fresh peach this morning, and harvested the two remaining apples on the heirloom tree, I’m so sad I can’t recall its name. Are the finches feasting on wild sunflower seeds also marauding the Fuji apple? It doesn’t appear so; the leaves are grasshopper eaten but the fruit is sound, and so much of it, more than ever before, dozens of apples, I’m so happy I thinned them! At least 59 Fuji apples. I’ve got my eagle eye on these, watching for predation by those pesky birds.
September is like the last hill on the roller coaster. You’re near the top, the wild rush of August harvest has unwound behind you, there is that last push of fall fruits and vegetables to get in before the varmints git ‘em. Rosie has a big squirrel in her garden. I’ve got a stray deer here and there reminding me it’s time to put up fences around trees and shrubs whose protective rings I’ve repurposed on smaller plants throughout the summer. Someone ate two fat cheeks off the biggest tomato of the season; just yesterday I thought that’s about ripe, maybe I should pick it, but it wasn’t ready to let go, and I didn’t come back. This morning’s rising sun highlighted the glistening dips in its flesh when I chanced to glance over from the patio, where I sipped coffee and listened to the raucous sound of morning.
Cynthia led a meditation on sounds last week that’s reminded me to cherish more the wild sounds and deeper silence where I’m blessed to live, like the cacophony of finches in the wild sunflower patch that sprang up on the south side. It’s been years since I’ve lived with a constant musical soundtrack, and for the past several I’ve lived with only intermittent music through the course of my waking day. More and more I find myself eschewing external music, to simply hear, and listen to, the music of nature: birds, crickets, wind, bees, coyotes at night, more coyotes this summer than I have heard in many years.
A great-horned owl has come a courting me. It must be me he woos, because I’ve listened long and faraway and do not hear another. And so I croon back to him a few times, though Stellar doesn’t like it and tries to make me stop, and soon I do stop, because it isn’t fair; I can’t give the owl what it’s looking for. But I sure do enjoy exchanging hoots with it for a few minutes on a clear full-moon night, or any other.
This morning, rain-washed and crisp, the golds of autumn jingle forth. Last Saturday we noticed the first hint of aspen turning up on Mendicant Ridge. By Tuesday the yellows were distinct, and after that storm moved over Wednesday night, the golds are glowing bright, clearly delineated patches among shades of greens, siennas and ochres, treed and rocky slopes. Air is brisk and the dogs are frisky.
Fall blows in on these winds that feel portentous. March winds last longer than they used to, and winter winds start early, in late summer. The breeze sometimes is just a bit too strong; I feel the atmosphere whipping up, winding up all this energy, that later, maybe elsewhere, will unwind with a fury. Ever since I watched the film Melancholia earlier this summer, I’ve viewed this world differently, trusting and allowing myself to sense and feel the changes, the subtle shifts in seasonal events, in their timing, likelihood, or nature. Something is coming, and all I want to do is make jam.
At the end of the day, though, it’s not about my garden and what I’ve grown and what I’ve put up and what I’ve enjoyed this summer. It’s about what we’ve all tended and grown and loved and eaten and shared and put up for winter, it’s about what we all do in our lives here on this fragile planet. It’s about not just this apple, but all them apples, too! The change that’s in the wind is about me and you, and the choices we make in the next few weeks. To be continued…
A few fruits and vegetables are finally ripening in this weird summer weather. And as many are being ravaged by beasts.
I may have made a mistake. I gave bloom food to all the flowers and vegetables last week, and it seems to have done some of them good, the flowers, the squashes, beans, eggplants, but I fear I’ve undone my tomatoes and tomatillos. They’re sending off prolific new shoots with blossoms, and some of that new growth on the tomatillos is turning yellow. What do I add to help them, and should I cut off all those flower shoots? And what should’ve I given them instead of bloom food (1-4-5)? Bloom foods I’ve used before have said “for flowers and fruits.” This one I bought in bulk, and don’t really know much about it. I used the same company’s grow formula (3-2-4) earlier this summer, maybe more than once. I think I also did a bloom feed earlier. I thought that doing it last week would help the fruits that were already on there, but instead I think I may have sabotaged them. Live and learn.
Then I called my next door neighbor, who has a true subsistence garden for his family, and asked him what I’d done wrong. He said his tomatoes are doing the same thing, lots of new shoots with flowers, and he didn’t give them anything. So that made me feel better. He agreed maybe I should cut off the new shoots. I started doing that and suddenly it seemed like I was cutting too much growth. It’s been a hard year for a lot of vegetables, late to go in because of the cold, way too much rain leaching nutrients from the soil early and compacting the beds with some clay in them, then hot and dry baking those beds, then cool and wet, then super windy, then rainy, then hot and dry… Fluctuations.
Plus the grasshoppers! Everyone is complaining about their plague-like populations. Fortunately in my yard there is so much growth of all the ornamentals, from the wet spring, that they have plenty to eat without doing too much damage to the food crops. Still, I’ve been cutting back spent beds where they’re congregating, and setting out Nolo bait stations every few days. Maybe I’m making a little headway, I can’t tell, but the little piles of Nolo get eaten before the afternoon thunderstorms arrive.
Kittens, they are each other’s toys, and I have become their furniture. Flies in the windows teach them to jump. The big dog lies on the futon while the girl kitten stalks a fly by his nose. She creeps, she inches forward tensed, then pounces, lightly, on the cushion by his face; he remains still, watching this curious puppy that has several times hissed at him.
The little black cat rolls and purrs on my chest as I write. His sister sits on a forbidden table. I disrupt him to go scoop her up and bring her back to my lap in the recliner, disrupting his nap preparations. He almost seems to be jealous of her, curled on my chest, settling for one of the first times on the bed he claimed last week. Eventually all three fall asleep, Stellar where he lay, Ojo in the window bed, and Flan, finally, on the footrest between my feet. I find myself feeling more relaxed and happier than I have in a long time, and I know that living with these little kittens is good for my heart. And if it’s good for my heart, it’s good for my art.
First of all, call me crazy. I just planted fifty Vidalia onions on the first of November. It’s not even a root day. But close! I missed that yesterday with errands in town and of course the Halloween frenzy. I did get the beds ready, turning and breaking up the clayey soil, but when I had twenty minutes in the afternoon between other tasks and dressing for the party, I chose to lay on the patio chaise with my feet up the back. Toes up time!
I’d spent the day before canning tomatoes and freezing pesto, and the morning canning tomatillos. Last night at Halloween dinner we were talking about how none of us has ever lived in a place before where so many people know exactly where their food comes from. If we don’t grow our own vegetables, our neighbors give or sell us some. We don’t have much in the way of farmers’ markets, but we have a lot of farms where we can go directly to buy vegetables. If we don’t make our own bread we know someone who does. If we don’t slaughter our own meat we have friends who hunt, or grow pigs or cattle or lambs, or we visit the Homestead Market and buy meat grown without chemicals and hormones on local ranches. We are very connected to our food on the Western Slope, and we revel in our collaborative meals.
As much as we celebrate our bounty together, I celebrate the gifts of subsistence that we exchange throughout the year. One of my favorite presents of all time was one of Suzi’s homegrown chickens for my birthday dinner. The best part about the chicken was that she brought it to my house uncooked, so I got not only the delicious, home-grown, free-range, organic chicken, eating the skin without guilt, but I got the smell of it roasting with savory and rosemary for hours during and after in my house, I got three pints of stock, chicken salad, and dog gravy for three days. Other gifts of subsistence in recent years have included dozens of eggs, cords of firewood, a case of organic oranges and grapefruits for Christmas; a bag of elk burger, steaks and loin, wow; a bag full of last summer’s preserves, pickled green beans, pear butter, pepper jelly, peach salsa. Truly the gifts that keep on giving.
This harvest season various friends have given me tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos. I’ve given away zucchinis, parsley, garlic, and kefir, and traded some carrots for an artisanal dog collar. We live close to the land and we share. I am grateful every day. An unexpected gift began last weekend. Three of us were driving to town for what turned out to be a truly extraordinary Bach and Schubert concert. Bill mentioned that he had an extra piglet. Before long, Deb and I committed to sharing that pig, and ended up picking up a fifth piglet in Montrose which we delivered to Bill’s pigpen. While we’re paying for the pigs and our share of their feed, Bill is giving his time to grow the pigs through spring slaughter for what turns out to be seven households in the neighborhood. It is imperative that I diligently eat up all those packets of peaches, cherries, tomato sauce, soup, pesto, and grated zucchini I’ve stuffed into my chest freezer over the past few months, so there’s room for half a pig by springtime.