The Proof is in the Eating
eed 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.
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.
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.
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?