Saturday, August 30, 2014

Towering Temple of Tomatoes

I can hear my mother's words echoing in my head: "This is because your eyes were bigger than your stomach."

It all started innocently enough, when Dave and I drove out to Ayers Creek Farm to pick some of the Astiana tomatoes that, for the last few years, we've roasted and frozen to use throughout the winter in soups, sauces and, yes, even cocktails. The first year we bought a total of 50 pounds of the blood-red, heart-shaped tomatoes that Anthony and Carol brought from Italy as seed and adapted to the climate of the Wapato Valley. (Read the very entertaining story of their discovery of these tomatoes.) The next year it was 80 pounds, then 120 pounds, and this year I figured we needed 150 pounds to take us all the way to the next season.

Roughly chopped, ready for roasting.

Named Astiana after the town in the Piedmont region of Italy where they originated, these large tomatoes are almost all flesh with very few seeds, ideal for making sauce and paste. My plan was to get a jump start on the processing by bringing home 50 pounds or so, then getting two more batches of 50 pounds each as the season, about a month long, progressed. I say "was" because when we got to the field and started picking, using the four yellow crates that Carol insisted we would need—you can tell I'm trying to shuffle off blame here, right?—well, that's when my clever plan went a bit sideways. By which I mean completely off the rails.

After roasting, ready to bag and freeze.

Hauling the crates back to the processing shed, we knew we had more than 50 pounds-worth staring back at us, but when it was all weighed and bagged, that's when I heard my mother's voice. It turns out there were 142 pounds of my favorite fruit sitting on the table in that shed, 142 pounds that were subsequently driven home and the same 142 pounds carried into the house.

Roasting on the grill.

To say I saw my life, or at least the next few days of my life, flash before my eyes might be a wee bit of an overstatement, but there was definitely an "Oh my god what have I gotten myself into" feeling at surveying the bags and bags (and bags…) of ripening tomatoes at my feet. Fortunately they were at varying stages, from squishy, do-something-with-them-right-now-or-say-sayonara ripeness to barely pink-almost-green ones that, with luck, would take three or four days to get fully ripe.

Sorting through them and labeling bags "soon" for those needing attention in the next day or two and "hold" for those that could wait a couple of days, we dove in and grilled two batches of the softest ones that evening, which went immediately into the freezer. We hope to have the rest done by Sunday, divided more or less evenly between grilled and oven-roasted. Wish us luck!

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