This cloumn first appeared in the Star-Phoenix on 21 April 2006.
My friend Murray and I have a friendly competition over tomatoes. Who grows the most, who gets the first red tomato, who has the biggest bragging rights. Murray usually wins. But that doesn’t stop me from trying again summer after summer. I have a competitive spirit when it comes to food. Perhaps it dates to my childhood growing up on the farm at Craik. On fair day, dad would get us up early and head for the garden in search of the most beautiful and uniform examples of each vegetable. They were carefully washed, arranged on silver pie plates and entered in the produce competition.
Sometimes we got a carrot that looked like Pinocchio or a potato in the shape of a duck, but there was a competition for them, too. As I recall, we won a lot of ribbons. Last summer, I entered the bread-making contest at the Wheat Festival in Weyburn. I won a prize for my baguette–second place in a field of two. And a couple of weeks ago, I entered the cherry pit spitting contest at the Cherry Festival in Bruno. So tell me, why are boys such better spitters than girls? My pit spits were–well–the pits.
Murray and I both start our tomatoes from seed. But these are not always the tomatoes that go into my garden. Last year I killed all my seedlings by putting them outside to ‘harden off’ on a windy day. This year, I planted my tomatoes in the garden just before it got so cold and rainy in June. They never grew for a month and they’re still a month behind. I have supplemented them with seedlings from a greenhouse.The first ripe tomatoes I ate this year (other than those from the farmers’ market) came from my neighbour Andrea’s garden. They were delicious in a BLT.
Most years, I grow enough Roma tomatoes that we eat them all winter. I cut a slice off the stem end and freeze them whole in ziplock bags. When thawed, the pulp slips easily out of the skins. They’re terrific in soup or a quick pasta sauce made with olive oil, basil and garlic. In fact, I would never consider buying an "imported" grocery store tomato in winter. They are so pale and tasteless, starved of their nutrients and flavour, I hate to spend my hard-earned pennies on them. After all, what’s eating all about if it isn’t for nourishment and good taste?
I am a big champion of local food, especially fruits and vegetables, that are picked ripe in season and stored for short periods of time. They taste better, and I suspect they have a lot more vitamins, too. And there is no better time of year than right now to buy locally from farmers’ markets or U-picks. For one year, my husband and I made an effort to serve almost nothing but Saskatchewan foods at our dinner table in Saskatoon. Last year at this time, I was busy canning and freezing cherries, pears, rhubarb, apples and tomatoes for those long winter months. We ate well, and felt healthier for it. (You can read about it at HomeForDinner.blogspot.com.)
This year, I am modifying my local food challenge: Everyday, I want to eat something picked or grown myself. So, I’m hoping my tomatoes pick up the pace. And Murray, if your tomatoes are disappearing after dark, it certainly wasn’t me.
1 red pepper
1/4 red onion
fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme and cilantro
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper
Boil the unpeeled beets in water until they can be pierced through with a sharp knife. Drain. When they are cool enough to handle peel the beets and cut them into a half-inch (1 cm.) dice. Cut the red pepper in half, remove the stem and seeds, and drop into boiling water until the flesh is just soft, about 3 minutes. Cut the pepper and tomatoes to the same size as the beets. Finely chop the onion. Mix the vegetables together in a bowl and, while they are still warm, add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and toss well. Cool. Before serving, add a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs.