Ode to summer’s bounty

By Debbie Browning
Aaaaaaa, late summer. I can’t wait, can you?
OK, I can do without the blast furnace heat and the extra dollop of humidity that makes a sauna seem cool by comparison.
But if that helps to bring forth my tiny porch garden’s vegetable bounty then I can suffer, albeit briefly and not so quietly.
I look forward to the day when the fruits on my tomato plants – which can be numbered upon one hand. Er, the plants, not the fruit – are showing new color almost daily. In fact, this plethora of love apples will often have me turning to the internet in search of even more uses for fresh tomatoes.
Dare I admit there is only so much pasta with fresh tomato sauce and caprese salad one person can eat?
Although my affection for caprese salad apparently knows no bounds. I think this is because it’s best at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Unlike pasta, which is served warm and that simply adds to the body heat, it seems. Especially when the planned hot meal for the day is microwaved corn on the cob. Although not from my bitty porch garden, but from a guest here at the hotel whose neighbor plants corn to sell. I have to agree with Calvin of comic Calvin & Hobbes: “Summer is butter on your chin and corn mush between every tooth.”
Not familiar with caprese salad? Perhaps you call it by another name. It’s simply tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil – enlivened in my version with chopped red onion. Or you can cheat and use balsamic vinaigrette.

Caprese salad

Caprese salad can appear as fancy as you want. I just chop it all up. Others more concerned with presentation will alternate slices of tomato, cheese and basil. Or you can skewer a cherry tomato, a mozzarella ball and a basil leaf on a toothpick for some handy — and very tasty! appetizers.
Of course, we’ve all got our very favorite salsa recipes. By the way, did you know that in the Midwest, and probably Texas Panhandle as well, they call salsa ..... sauce?
Neither did I! Sauce to my West Virginia way of thinking involves meat and goes on a hot dog. There are many little gives one should make when fitting into a new area, but seven years there and every time I heard sauce I thought we’d be having tried-and-true West Virginia slaw dogs! Sadness. Apparently West Virginia doesn’t have a total lock on the mustard, sauce, slaw and onion fixings, though. If you’re a NASCAR fan, you already know that’s how they are served in Martinsville.
Another favorite of mine, also served cold, is gazpacho. Tomatoes, a selection of veggies from cucumber, onion, garlic, celery, peppers both sweet and hot; some folks add carrots. As you can tell, it’s rather like a chopped salad that’s been pureed. Yummy-licious!
So while I’m perusing fresh tomato recipes on the Web, imagine my surprise to come across a recipe entitled: Simple Tomato Sandwich.
This gal said she posted it online because she had wasted 29 years of her life ignorant of such garden-blessed bliss.
I’m sure you’ll recognize this one: toasted bread, garden-fresh tomatoes (although in a pinch those from a farmer’s market can be substituted), mayo and salt.
Really? She never, ever heard of this? Now that’s a sadly deprived childhood!
I’d say the simple tomato sandwich is the exception that proves two commonly held beliefs.
The first of which – ignorance is bliss – has other arguments to refute it. Second is the universally held truth that it can be good, fast or cheap, but never all three. This truism frequently describes vehicle repairs. However, I bid you consider that the simple tomato sandwich does combine all three. That it’s good is an understatement, it’s cheap compared to many other options and it’s a snap to prepare. The only possible quibbles could be cost in terms of sweat equity, perhaps, and the time lapse from planting to harvest. Those are conditions I’m willing to meet.
Store-bought tomatoes? Pffffft! Not even worth a mention and if you think they are, then you’ve never had that fresh-picked goodness. Extra points if it’s still warm from the sun.
Pardon me, I had to wipe some drool.
I should mention I’ve been known to test a slight variation on my simple tomato sandwich in recent years – especially with heartier bread such as marble – snipped fresh basil right on top of the tomato slices.
I adapted it from a not-so-classic twist on the beloved BLT using fresh basil leaves in place of lettuce, which means it’s no longer a BLT, but they didn’t rename their new creation.
My mother could make the simple tomato sandwich even simpler. She could forgo the bread and eat that ’mater just as if it were an apple!
Shudder. I draw the line at that.
While the tomatoes and herbs will be going like gangbusters come those lazy, hazy days of late summer, not so with my cucumbers.
Alas, I don’t seem to have much luck with them. Typically, they flower, they set fruit then those little suckers just stop! Dozens of them, about an inch long and not a speck of growth! Grrrrr. Anyone have any ideas what I did wrong? So I can finally grow some cukes this year?
The sweet and savory peppers always do well for me on my tiny porch garden.
Herbs, boy, can I grow herbs! At least herbs I cook with – basil, thyme, oregano, chives, garlic chives, rosemary, sage, lemon balm, lemongrass and mint.
I never have any luck with cilantro or dill, though, which I try to grow for Kim. Both get eaten by some unidentified creature. on. my. back. porch! I never find it from year to year. But it will stop dining on my gardening efforts after it demolishes the green onions ... again.
So, be sure to tell me, how your garden grows this summer? I can’t wait for late April!

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