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The Proof is in the Eating

December 6, 2012

Seed catalogs are slowly making their way to my mailbox, and into the stack on the kitchen table.   Being the bad a$$ gardener I am, I already ordered some seeds online before Thanksgiving.  That being said, gardening isn’t the end all for me, I like seed to table, and I like seed to pantry to table even more.  It’s a nice feeling to have a full larder that tastes good too.

oven roasted tomato sauce

oven roasted tomato sauce

I stock what may be called a peasant’s pantry.  There is no need to be ashamed of being a meat and potatoes gal, or guy for that matter.  I oftentimes hear about all the different varieties of vegetables that are being lost, and how in the olden days more varieties were grown than now.  I’m not disputing those facts, but I don’t think farmstead gardens had all that much diversity.  I think actually there was quite a bit of diversity, but it varied due to geography and climate constraints.  If you add up all the tomato varieties available at the end of the twentieth century there were a lot, but not all were available in all places and certainly not grown in the manner they are now.  I think truth be known, that those farm wives and market gardeners had a few, locally acclimated varieties that they nurtured to feed their families and to stock their market stalls with.  It was up to the seed purveyor to grow out and produce the array of seeds for the end-user.  Then it was up to the farm wife to select the varieties of vegetables and fruits that produced well in her garden.

Pantano Romanesco

Pantano Romanesco

Every gardener I know has their go-to varieties, and then they have the experimental side of the brain that succumbs to the superlative laden vegetable descriptions in seed catalogs.  Guilty!  I have learned to not commit myself to new varieties in a big way, namely don’t plant 10 plants of a new tomato just because they sound good!  I will commit to one or two, even though those tiny little seeds seem so innocent, just like a baby milk cow, they grow up pretty fast and need lots of tending.

On the tomato front this year, New Girl F1, BobcatF1, Indigo Rose, Japanese Black Trifele, Pantano Romanesco, and Nyagous were new.  It’s pretty easy to conduct taste tests when they are all in the same place.  In the keeper category, New Girl (thanks Eliot), Bobcat (thanks Fedco), Japanese Black Trifele (thanks Laura), and Pantano Romanesco (thanks Tomato Growers Supply).  In the spitter category was Indigo Rose and Nyagous, you two were beautiful plants, but you fell short in the taste test, sorry 😦  I only have so much tomato real estate so it has to count.  Some local growers squeaked by this dry year with outside toms, but not worth the risk here, my family is the only recipient in this CSA so I can’t take the guilt trip of crop failure when it’s my pantry at stake.

row run

row run

Besides tasting good out of hand, I want vegetables that are easy to grow and maintain right through harvest, and then I want them to fit into my pantry scheme.  Do they keep long?  If not, do they taste so good you have to have them for that fleeting thing we call summer in the Pacific Northwest?  If I want to can, are the plants productive enough to support that?  Some of these questions of course can’t be answered sitting in the armchair by lamplight, that’s where the growing out comes in.  And sometimes it’s the canning or the resulting product.  My breakout star tomato this year was Pantano Romanesco.  My surprise, it grew well, produced heavily and tasted good.  Not stupendous until I canned it.  It is a big ol’ Italian heirloom no doubt important to some region besides the Columbia Gorge, but when I saw how juicy it was I decided to make tomato soup base from those alone, I could still have my roasted tomato flavor and no endless cooking down.  Now that we have gotten into the stash, I can see 20 quarts of Pantano soup is not going to last too long.  The interesting thing to me too was that now that I have two tomatoes (Pantano) left on the counter, one green and one orange, no soft spots, just pretty good-looking tomatoes for December.  I didn’t plan this, I picked every variety when it was time to clean up the tomato rows, besides what we’ve eaten a lot have needed to go into the compost because of spoilage.  Another notch in the Pantano belt.  You can be sure I will grow more plants next year.

So as you pore over your catalogs on a dreary day, look for varieties that suit you and your needs.  Make your own heirlooms on your own terms.

What surprised you in your garden this past year?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2012 5:13 pm

    I’m so glad I added you to my reads. We are moving to the Willamette Valley at the end of next summer and I will need to learn a lot before we plant the following spring!! New varieties for us, as I have been east of the Mississippi all my life except a very short stint in Colorado.

  2. December 6, 2012 5:29 pm

    I have so much to learn that I can’t blame the seeds. Sigh.

  3. Marcia permalink
    December 6, 2012 6:00 pm

    Hey! Haven’t commented in a LONG time – still read you every day. I saved seeds from a hybrid pumpkin seed variety that did well for a couple of years and “think” I have developed a pumpkin that is perfect for my climate (over 6,000 ft. elevation and, if lucky, 75-80 day growing season). They work pretty well for baking, etc. and excel at pig/cow/chicken feed. At some (other) time I need to visit with you about breeding cows in the hot seasons and my failures and finally successes! Happy Holidays!

  4. December 6, 2012 6:19 pm

    We primarily do a salsa garden… tomatoes and peppers. I’ve found that the spicy-spicy peppers are HARD to grow — habeneros and fatalis. But, Joe’s Round (from seedsavers) did amazingly well. Got quite the harvest both early summer and this fall. Still figuring out the tomatoes, nothing has done well over the past 3 years. It gets too hot, too fast. And I’ve only got 1, maybe 2 summers left! We are likely to move when/if Hubby gets a job.

  5. December 6, 2012 9:28 pm

    We were bowled over by Cherokee Black. Flavor, productivity, and early enough outdoors. But it’s been a strange year. I picked my last tomatoes after Election Day and the chickens are still finding Sungolds. Today I rescued a baby garter snake the dog was harassing — under six inches long, so a third or even fourth brood for the year, very young. The fuchsia bush is still in bloom and growing, and all of next year’s volunteer potatoes have up and volunteered, with foot high foliage.

  6. M in NC permalink
    December 7, 2012 5:14 am

    Thanks for the review of the Pantano tomato! Tomato Growers is where I have found some of my successful tomatoe and hot pepper varieties (Piedmont NC – hot, humid summers – variable rain etc).

    I found Bell Star many years ago because I was interested in a determinate with a quicker maturity – still growing that variety. This summer the country garden had to ‘make do’ and the Bell Stars did great (as usual) (my mother broke her leg first week of June and my focus was on keeping the family healthy – we live in the city).

    I have also planted some other varieties and collected seeds, but not as careully as you do. One my mother likes the taste of is the ‘New Zealand Paste’. Difficult to find seeds for these. Since I plant multiple varieties (mostly paste type) they have ‘blended’ with some of the others and I don’t get a true ‘pink ox-heart’ shape. They haven’t been a prolific producer, but my mother really likes them.
    Some others she liked were Jersey Devil. Giant Paste and some of the Patio tomatoe varieties. I plant the patio tomatoes at the front door & walk along with the hot peppers. Amuses the neighbors the mail delivery folks not the usual suburban front yard 🙂 !

    I do enjoy reading your blog — very informative. I’m learning a lot.

    M in NC

  7. epeavey1 permalink
    December 7, 2012 5:46 am

    I found that hot peppers are the easiest to grow here in North East , Georgia. I planted four of each hot pepper total of twenty eight plants soared here so many peppers. I was still getting habanero, and jalapeno in November. So next year only two of each and many more sweet peppers, we made salsa pickled peppers and gave many away. When I was in the grocery store this week noticed habanero peppers are selling for $ 3.90 a pound. That is crazy but the public will buy them and I will keep on having a garden every year. I love working in the dirt and watching things grow then enjoy the harvest and the canning. Ellen from Georgia

  8. Jessica permalink
    December 7, 2012 9:37 am

    I find your life so incredibly inspiring.

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