Confessions of a Gardening Rube

Photo © Brian Yarvin

It’s possible that any idiot can grow tomatoes. I found out a couple years ago that I could grow them without even knowing I was growing them.

We’d settled into our new home in early spring, but everything else around the house and yard, I reasoned, kept me from doing anything about the two small raised-beds the previous owners had built. I tried just to keep the weeds at bay, but eventually lost pace with them—by early July they were past knee-high. There in the middle of an otherwise manicured lawn, my little experiment with a garden of total neglect absolutely flourished.

Then, strangely, in mid-August, mine own eyes did not betray when I happened to spot a few red specs among the weeds. In the heck? Here were the most adorable—not to mention most improbable—cherry tomatoes, growing along a single, sorta sad little vine! I guess it isn’t so unusual for a plant to re-germinate, but how often does it happen when, like, the gardener’s on permanent hiatus?

This is what I’m saying. Any idiot can grow tomatoes. Or, tomatoes can take care of themselves.

Two years later, this spring, I decided to garden for serious—for the first time!  I put in seven or eight tomato plants. And cucumber, eggplant, onions, basil…and butternut squash—don’t get me started on the squash. You know you’re a novice gardener when you bypass the fine print on squash, that it basically hijacks your entire garden. Do you think it cares what else is growing there? You can try to hem it in or redirect the vines, but it wends and winds, props up its canopies, and gloats—pure, unadulterated gourd sprawl.

The squash smothered the onions, but was gracious enough to sidestep the tomatoes, most of which grew up nice. I didn’t really do much; I turned some compost into the soil, watered and gave the plants a few wood stakes to climb. Credit the tomatoes mostly for being idiot-proof—safe from the sort of idiot who assumed butternut squash would take up, what, a couple square feet, give or take?

The Green Zebra begins to turn gold as it ripens.

Anyway, here it is late September, and tomatoes are piling up. My most prolific are the Green Zebras.  I’d hoped for more of the Brandywine heirlooms, so I coddle them even more, dressing them in only the finest olive oil and pinch of fleur de sel. And I’m well aware of what an insufferable poseur that last sentence makes me seem. I can handle it.

My only problem now: Too many tomatoes, presumably too few ways to use them. Right? Wrong. A few years ago Countryman published—that’s right—Brian Yarvin’s The Too Many Tomatoes Cookbook, an excellent resource for figuring out what to do with your autumn haul. He packed it with recipes for everything tomato-y, from your basic, classic tomato sauce to Spinach and Tomato in an African Curry Sauce. I have half a mind to try his Curried Tomatoes recipe tonight.

But what I really want to try—and I want everyone to know—is Yarvin’s recipe for Ketchup. Have you ever tried your own ketchup? How’d it turn out? Mine’s going to have to be green!

Here’s what Yarvin recommends:

Tomato Ketchup
(makes 3 cups)

1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped
5 cups diced tomatoes
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, and add the mace, pepper, cloves, mustard, five-spice powder, and salt, and stir until you can smell the spices cooking, about 1 minute.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, translucent, and evenly coated with the spices, about 10 minutes.
3. Mix in the tomatoes, vinegar, and brown sugar. Simmer, occasionally stirring, until the liquid has reduced by roughly one-quarter, about 1 hour.
4. Reduce the heat further to low, to prevent scorching, and keep simmering until about one-quarter of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 more hour.
5. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool. When it nears room temperature, puree it in a food processor, and store in the refrigerator.


Related Books We Publish

Stand Up & Garden
by Mary Moss-Sprague

Raised-Bed Vegetable Gardening Made Simple
by Raymond Nones

EatingWell In Season: The Farmers’ Market Cookbook
by Jessie Price and the Editors of EatingWell


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