About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Winter Tomatoes

There's nothing better than winter tomatoes! 
Let me be more precise...
There's nothing better than fresh, warm-off-the-vine, red ripe tomatoes especially in winter. Believe it or not, that's something I've been taking a bit for granted recently.
We have a small greenhouse here on the Ranch.  It's original and still-primary purpose is for early spring seed-starting for the vegetable garden.  Several years ago it occurred to me that it went largely unused in the winter and decided to see what I could grow.  I'm not particularly interested in flowers so food plants (surprise, surprise) became the focus.
The Greenhouse in January
Getting the tomato plants started last fall
Pots of herbs and some salad greens have all earned their places of honor in the tightly packed space but it was the little tomato seedlings I set in the center bed that first autumn that really surprised me by taking off and, bearing fruit all winter long.
I've been growing a bed of winter tomatoes ever since. Some years have been good and others pretty dismal but the last couple have been phenomenal with regular harvests of 6 to 12 medium-sized tomatoes every 5 days or so.  As much as I love just eating sliced tomatoes as a side dish or wedges in a salad I've actually had to cook with some of them this winter because I can't keep up with their production.  When you start feeling like you HAVE to eat something, no matter how special it is, it loses some of its appeal.
I was fortunate to have two sets of visitors to the ranch over the past couple of weeks both remind me of just how wonderful they are and how lucky I am to have them.
The first visitor was a good friend from Phoenix who came for several days to help us with an intense section of our goat-kidding season.  I think we about worked the poor woman to death and don't know how we would have done it without her help.  There were just so many things going on at once and the hours were so long and difficult and the sleep so fleeting, that we had her picking up our slack in countless different ways. 
Yesterday's Harvest
One night I remembered that I hadn't even been to the greenhouse in days and asked her to run out there and see if there were any ripe tomatoes.  It took her a little longer than I expected but back she came with a nice basket of them, many of which made it to the salad we had with dinner that night.  She couldn't stop talking about the tomatoes and at one point, between bites, confided that all the tomatoes had not made it back to the kitchen - she had popped them off the vine into her mouth while picking the rest!
Then,  just today, we had some other friends from the other side of the state make the 6+-hour trip here to pick up some goat kids and a Dexter heifer which they had purchased.  They arrived early having made most of the drive in the pre-dawn dark so we offered them some breakfast (fresh fruit, sausage and egg hoagie sandwiches, and sides of home-fried potatoes, sliced tomatoes and some jalapeno peppers).  Again, the tomatoes, which I served simply sprinkled with a little salt, pepper and basil, were a big hit.
The "fresh legs" of a ball player coming off the bench can rejuvenate the whole team.  "Fresh eyes" on a project gone stale is a good way to jump-start problem solving solutions.  This week I've learned that "fresh taste buds" can work magic at re-inspiring a cook.
I am so lucky to have so many delicious and extraordinary ingredients to work with on a daily basis here.  From our Ranch-raised and butchered meats and poultry, to our own garden produce fresh or preserved by canning or freezing and, of course, all the wonderful fresh and aged goat cheeses we make here from our herd's milk.
I am going to try very hard not to take a single one of them for granted, ever again.

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