the result of a revived garden, photo taken 2017
It is nearly mid-September and the golden rod is just about to bloom. When I open the door off of the kitchen to let the dog out in the morning, the air is getting cooler. The days are getting shorter.
Earlier this spring our family had high hopes of a better plan for our garden, and we set out to begin almost everything from seed. Our kitchen table, that sits centered near two sunny windows became covered by shallow cardboard boxes filled with starter peat-pots. We made homemade biodomes out of the cardboard boxes and plastic wrap, and as much as a fun science novelty as that was I have to admit to you that we needed something, any good solution to prevent a curious cat from digging at the seedlings, and knocking all of the plants over. Biodomes gave us hope that these plants and a cat could live in harmony. Whoever said that the earth could never have been flat because cats would have pushed everything off of it by now, in my estimation, was a pretty smart person. I believe it.
Spring days progressed and for a few weeks we just ate meals where we found space. The small places where the kitchen table was free, in the living room, the back-porch steps. We were going to make this work. Seeds sprouted and looked promising. Eventually, we transferred lush green plants into the garden, and what looked great in the kitchen took about a week to begin looking, well, not so hot. We knew our soil needed some care, but we said we’d work on that with time and the good little compost bin that does a lot of work for us. We’ll get there.
David, my partner in life, reminded me of what my Dad used to say. “Each time you plant a tomato, bury a banana peel with it and it feeds it.” As soon as David said that I saw Dad saying it, and the memory of Dad came back through my mind. It was good. I remembered Dad’s elderly hands, near the end of his life, the arthritic knuckles that had worked mostly, every day of his life. That Great Depression kid was just always going to make it. And what he was to me just visited me for a minute, like the things of September, the month that we said goodbye. Like the Sycamore in the woods that stood tall against the wild honeysuckles and maples as Dad and I looked over the hill in the backyard. And hands that create things. Hands that planted things, and built things. Hands that drove things and trained all of the Dobermans, generally, into the most well-behaved creatures. And how those creatures loved him. I could see those hands, arthritic after years of life behind him, and a memory of us, standing at the edge of the hill with a garden behind us. “yep, gives it a good start,” voicing itself right into the conversation David and I were having.
So my little family, we went out to our small garden, and I wondered if I could ever teach our Scottie to dig in all the right places. Dad’s dogs never did that, either. Our little dog sat near us, loyal supervisor. And since we were burying banana peels partly for a memory here, why stop with the tomatoes? We carried that burying on with cucumbers, too, and they were about to tank on us. They had looked great on the kitchen table, but out here they were drying into next to nothing, withering, and not happy. It took a week, but everything came back beautifully. Tomatoes were happy. And we ended up having the best cucumbers we’ve had in a long time. We just had two more, in September, but I am thinking those are the last of them. Summer things in the garden are simply beginning to wind down. It is time for kale, and autumn things to take center stage.
Which brings me back to the tomatoes and that it is nearly mid-September. The tomatoes are green now. A few are turning red, but mostly green tomatoes hang heavily all over the vines, and the leaves on the plants are not yet to a papery stage like when October comes. My southern gene cannot resist. A quick twenty minutes or so, a cast iron skillet, and I fried up as many as I could. The coated tomatoes sizzle as they make contact with the bubbling oil. I had been only the slightest bit torn, wondering if I should have let all of these tomatoes ripen on the windowsill. Pasta is important when there is a runner in the house, but there was no turning myself away from these green tomatoes today. And the kids are getting tired of pasta. They are beginning to say that I make pasta every five minutes. Hyperbole, I promise, but I do heartily appreciate the wit.
The case iron skillet sits on the stove seasoned and ready. Tomatoes provide choices that generally carry no bad consequences and I like that. Different kinds of good. I had also clipped some rosemary, thyme and nasturtium flowers from our garden, just for fun. I mean, the best stuff is made up as we go along, right? So, why not? I take about a half-dozen good sized green tomatoes and leave the rest on the vine. Another day. Soon. A couple of eggs and milk, flour and cornmeal, cracked pepper, whatever suits that day. A few minutes of magic with cast iron and I do believe that this is what the end of summer tastes like. A drizzle of olive oil, goat cheese crumbles, creamy dressing, whatever suits the day there, too.
And then we are into autumn with new things, and I might bury banana peels again next to the kale that is reviving because, “It gives it a good start.”
The way I fried the tomatoes
I cut the half dozen green tomatoes I brought in into close to 1/2 inch slices. I took two bowls. In one I put two good sized eggs and about 3/4 cups milk. In the second bowl I put a 1/2 half cup of unbleached flour, 1/2 cup of cornmeal, cracked pepper, rosemary, and thyme, and nasturtium flowers, cut into thin strips. I used as much as I liked, in whatever quantity I liked, it’s fun to make this up as I go along. You’ll get it. You will do what you like.
I took my sliced green tomatoes and dredged them into the flour/cornmeal mixture. Then onto the eggs and milk and coat the tomatoes. I like to keep the oil shallow in the cast iron skillet, no higher than an inch or so. It’s good if the oil bubbles as you put the tomatoes in. Two to three minutes on each side on medium high heat usually does the trick. Don’t overcrowd the skillet.
If I am frying quite a few of them and I want to keep them hot, an oven on 250 and parchment paper(I love that stuff) lined baking sheets will make this really easy. I place the fried tomatoes singly on the baking sheet while I make the rest of the meal. There are only endless ways to dress fried green tomatoes. A drizzle of olive oil, maybe a little balsamic vinegar, blue cheese crumbles, goat cheese crumbles, did anyone say bacon? Do what you like. You can’t go wrong. It’s your kitchen and there are only rules there if you make them. However you do this, you will have the end of summer on a plate.
And as a little side note, that little cat who likes to push things off of flat surfaces? He helped me edit this. I’ll make corrections soon.