What a beautiful summer it has been here in Chattanooga! It’s been hot all right (as I sit here typing this post, in my house with a fan blowing on me and wearing a tank top, I’m still sweating) but beautiful nonetheless. We’ve had a perfect amount of rain and sun mix; and for the past 2 weeks even a cool breeze to freshen the sizzling sun beams.
Unfortunately the beautiful weather hasn’t always done it’s job of taking care of the plants at Crabtree Farms, where I am a Wednesday Workshare. Nearly half the tomato field is stricken with sadness either from heat or disease. But fortunately the farmers planted a large enough field to yield plenty of pounds of ‘maters each week for Market, CSA boxes and Farm Stand; and enough to require nine-plus hours of harvesting a week from farmers, workshare and volunteers. (And that just includes harvesting tomatoes. It doesn’t include picking squash, blackberries, cucumbers, peppers, okra, carrots, beets; and sorting all the harvest.)
Despite the work reaching into the twisted, scratchy vines and getting dizzy finding the right gradient of ripened color and spending hours in the sweltering heat, it’s so worth it. I love the tomatoes at Crabtree!! Never before I volunteered there did I taste such lusciousness. Never had I truly loved tomatoes until this sweet, colorful fruit touched my tongue. What’s the secret? Non-commercial methods (no pesticides) and love and care. AND heirlooms.
Not all of Crabtree’s tomatoes are heirloom varieties, only about half a dozen. The farmers grow Valencias, Moskoviches, Brandywines (also called Brandyboys), Cherokee Purples, Eva’s Purple Balls and Black Cherries, most of which are pictured below:
What is an heirloom vegetable/fruit, you ask?
The most simple definition of heirloom is that you can save the seeds from a fruit or vegetable and grow them next year to produce the same variety. The opposite of heirloom is hybrid, which are much harder to grow again because more than likely the seed of the plant is sterile. (Source: What is an Heirloom Vegetable?)
However, “commercial growers quickly learned that fruits and vegetables that looked funny wouldn’t sell. Conformity was king. So hybrids were developed to have more consistent sizes, shapes and colors. Supermarket tomatoes all became red. Hybrids for the home garden came to reflect what consumers learned to expect at the supermarket.” (Source: Burpee‘s website.)
More about the heirloom varieties here.
If you ever get a chance to buy heirloom tomatoes at a healthfood store, a farmers’ market or a farm, do it. Heirloom tomatoes will change your life. Plus, once you buy them, you can make this delicious tomato sauce!
- 3 TBS olive oil
- 1/2 red onion
- 3 cloves garlic (2 TBS minced, canned garlic)
- 2 squashes of any kind, diced
- 8 tomatoes, diced
- In a 5-quart pot, saute onion and garlic in oil for 2-3 minutes on a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Add squash and let cook while dicing tomatoes.
- Add tomatoes as you go until all tomatoes are diced.
- Stir all ingredients together and put the lid on. Let cook for 15 minutes. Stir and let cook another 15 minutes. Take the lid off and let reduce (letting the water from the tomatoes evaporate) on low for 2 hours, or until your desired saucyness, stirring every 20 minutes.
- The last 30 minutes, add a sprig of oregano and basil, a tsp salt and a tsp of black pepper. To make it spicy, add 1/2-1 tsp ground cayenne pepper.
- Puree for a more saucy consistency or smash with a potato masher to leave some of the texture.
- Before storing, let cool completely. Can in jars, freeze or refrigerate in zip bags or plastic containers.
- Enjoy on noodles or add to recipes that call for spaghetti sauce.