Celebrating The First Tomatoes

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Early Harvests & Fine Feasts

Tomato by Ann Ranlett http://annran.blogspot.com/

The first of almost anything often seems worth celebrating, especially if it involves eating something delicious. Here on Bainbridge Island, the entire community seemed to be rejoicing over the first local tomatoes to find their way to market. The market in question was the island’s Farmers Market, where Brian McWharter, a local grower, was selling the first fruits of his grafted vegetable crops.

Besides selling in the market, Brian runs a CSA and also supplies our local Town & Country grocery market with a great deal of produce grown at Middlefield Farm, an historic property about a mile from the grocery store. Late in May, Brian told me that he was growing both grafted tomatoes and peppers and would be picking his first ripe tomatoes the first week of June.

Home Grown Goodies

My own grafted tomatoes are covered with blossoms, with a few small fruits already formed, but none are yet fully ripe. Even so, we have so much in the way of greens, snow peas, green onions, and strawberries that a wait of a few more weeks seems inconsequential. In fact, I can’t remember ever having tomatoes even close to ripe by this time of year before, so even green ones seem well worth a mild celebration.

Mine are growing in my sunporch, which hardly qualifies as a true greenhouse. However, it does provide more warmth than the deck where all my larger potted things are growing, especially at night, when temperature still dip into the high 40’s on occasion. The deck is south facing, offering floods of sunlight when there is any, though most mornings are muffled in marine fog. This generally burns off by mid-afternoon, which makes both the greens and the peas very productive and happy.

Agretti Again

I’ve even got some seedling agretti returning after last year’s crop froze to death. I had not noticed any flowers, though they are most certainly inconspicuous at best. This succulent Mediterranean marine vegetable looks like muscular chives and has a crisp texture and salty, seaweedy flavor that’s lovely in salads. I also like to frizzle the young shoots in olive oil with garlic and sea salt and use them as a tasty garnish on steamed asparagus or poached fish.

In Italy, agretti is often fried or steamed and drizzled with olive oil and fresh lemon juice. The result is delicious, especially if you add some chopped shallots to the mix. Many years ago, I remember eating a totally amazing pasta dish in southern Italy involving wide fresh noodles tossed with agretti, fresh spinach, and baby peas in a very light, lemony cream sauce. Here’s my version of that memorable meal:

Fresh Pasta With Spring Vegetables

8-12 ounces fresh tagliatelle
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 organic lemon, zest grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 bunch (about half a pound) agretti, rinsed
12 ounces young spinach
1 pound new peas, shelled
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy organic cream
1/4 cup peccorino cheese, coarsely grated

While pasta water heats, combine oil, shallots, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and pepper in a wide, shallow pan over medium high heat and cook to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add agretti, spinach and peas and cook stirring often, until lightly wilted (2-3 minutes). Add wine, bring to a simmer, add cream, reduce heat to low while pasta cooks. Drain pasta, toss with sauce and serve, garnished with grated cheese. Serves at least one.

Welcome Baby!

My son and his wife are also celebrating the birth of their son, a strapping 10 pounder with a great deal to say for himself. After several false starts, he arrived briskly yesterday afternoon amid a loving crowd of family and friends. I was amazed and impressed by both parents, my daughter-in-love for her generosity in sharing her labor and delivery with the many people who love her dearly, and my son for his ardent, loving, calm, and compassionate support. They are truly partnered and will clearly be remarkable parents, aided and nurtured by their chosen community. How beautiful!

And the baby’s name? So far, it is Small Person Lovejoy, until his doting parents have time to suss out the most appropriate one(s). Onward!!

This entry was posted in Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Tomatoes. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Celebrating The First Tomatoes

  1. Karl Johansen says:

    Hi Ann, KJ here, Baker Hill Road. First: thanks for all you do to promote healthful lifestyles, planting things, and the island community. I have followed your writing and lectures for a long time and one of these days perhaps we shall meet. Question for you: in the recent column where you suggested a seawater cocktail for tomatoes… I may have missed it, but is this a one-time thing or on some revolving schedule? I did your suggested dosage and continue to water (plain water, raised 6′ x 8′ beds) 2-3 times a week with the latest hot weather. And pinch back rampant growth – plants are >5′ and goin’ for broke. Tons of blossoms, quite a bit of fruit setting, fingers crossed! Early Girl or whatever it is called has almost ripe fruit… I would like to recreate the results of my teenage years near Pittsburgh where corn and tomatoes grew to epic proportions…well, maybe not realistic in Puget Sound! Continue your great work, always, and kindest regards! /kj

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Well, thanks! The seawater dose is a one-time thing, at least as commercial growers do it, and that’s what I’ve been doing as well. Seems to work pretty nicely, at least the seawater-ed tomatoes won our blind taste tests for the past few years….

      This may be the summer you recapture your amazingly vigorous East Coast tomatoes; however, I have much better luck with regional specialty tomatoes like Seattle’s Favorite, and my grafted tomatoes of all kinds are producing like crazy this year. May the summer linger long into autumn!


  2. The first thing my new husband did when we rented our first house in East Bremerton was to plant tomatoes. That was 68 years ago this July, so long ago I can’t remember whether any of them even grew or were eaten. For several years now we have been planting tomato seeds from Bert (Van Burton) Carter’s farm on Tracyton Road which was a thriving truck farm above Dyes Inlet in the 30s and 40s. Bert hired local kids (my husband Charles, included) to help with the weeding and harvesting of berries, vegetables and other growing things “back in the day”. And as the plants and trees grew and produced their bounty, so did the kids who tended them. Bert developed a patio tomato that I still enjoy today along with other descendants of the Carter and Atkinson families. I save and dry the seeds and plant a few every year. And the beat goes on. Also the beets. And tomatoes. And the pickers and their families.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Wonderful stories! I love knowing that hand-me-down heritage varieties are still thriving in our region, where growing tomatoes is something of an art form!

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