Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Bad Boys

The glut has begun. I'm already giving tomatoes away, and the biggest producers are, of course, my two most frustrating plants: Matt's Wild Cherry and Black Krim.

Let's start with Matt. He's a crazily vining plant that wants to grow everywhere but up, and since my garden is on the small side and up is where he has to grow, we're constantly battling it out over garden twine and green stained hands. Also, he appears to be disease-prone, and has a case of something that causes the bottom leaves to yellow and fall off. I've done my research, and it doesn't look like an attack of mites, or fusarium or verticillium wilt, but Matt is sick even if it is a mystery-illness. Since the fruit ripens from bottom up and the leaf-drop doesn't seem to be faster than fruit set and ripening, the mystery-illness isn't a real problem yet. It makes me angry to see a sick plant in my otherwise very green garden, and I keep wondering if perhaps next year, Matt won't be welcome back to the octagon.

Then I remember the little dime-sized bright red fruit that hang in long clusters all over the plant. They're sweet and intensely tomato-y, as if all the flavor of a regular sized tomato has been concentrated down to fit into the fruit's small proportions. Adding to the excellent quality of the fruit is the fact that there are loads of it. I bring a brown bag of fruit from Matt's Wild Cherry home each day. I eat them like grapes, toss them into salads, add a handful to homemade creamed corn for zip and color, and still, I have more left over. So what do I do with the rest? I make cherry tomato raisins. Yup, "tomaisins."

I rinse off the fruit, remove them from their little stems, and cut them in half. I've found that it is best to cut them in half vertically, starting at the stem end. I place them cut side up in a parchment-paper lined pan, sprinkle them with salt, and then put them on the table on my west balcony, where they get about six hours of intense sun in the course of a day. To keep the bugs from getting to them, I place an umbrella-style picnic screen over them.

The "tomaisins" take between one to two days to dry, depending on how hot it is and how high the humidity. Determining whether they're dry enough or not is easy: I touch the fruit and see if it is still sticky or squishy anywhere. If they're not, they're done and feel like dried cranberries. These little morsels of summer get tossed in a sturdy ziplock bag where they join their peers (I've been making a batch of these almost every other day for the last couple weeks) and go into the freezer. They'll come of use when fresh tomatoes are no longer available. I'll toss them in pastas, sauces, and savory quick breads. I'm sure that when I enjoy them over the winter, I'll spend no time remembering the plant's sick leaves. I'll just remember the branches covered with sweet, happy berries.

My other current heavy producer is Black Krim. This is the plant that has the oddly rolled leaves that have persisted through its life, but have seemed to cause no real problem. Like its temperamental friend Matt's Wild Cherry, Black Krim is not fond of growing vertically. The fact that the branches are loaded with fruit, each weighing approximately three-quarters of a pound, doesn't help the vertical-challenge issue. This is the shortest tomato in the garden, but also the one with the most fruit, and the largest fruit to boot.

The fruits of Black Krim remind me of David Bowie, Giovanni Ribisi, and Alan Rickman. These fruit are ugly/sexy. They're malformed with scars and pits and seams. Their flesh is a little off-colored and in fact looks sickly--certainly not the usual coloring that one finds attractive. But still, one wants to continue looking at them for those scars, seams, and colors somehow work together to create a beautiful that defies expectations.

But Black Krim isn't for looking at alone. No, this is one of the richest tomatoes that I've ever consumed, tasting as if it were already cooked halfway into sauce. Its flavor is almost salty and layered with a smoky funk that gives it character and depth. Yes, Black Krim is good in salads and cooked into sauces, but where I think it really shines is in a sandwich. BLTs? This is the best T for the combination. Leftover grilled steak? Slice up a Black Krim and slather good bread with mayo and spicy brown mustard, layer it with beef slices and tomato, sprinkle with a leafy green, and smash the bread together. Oh heavenly summer-meal goodness!

I remember watching Reality Bites with my parents while I was in college and home for a holiday. Despite Ethan Hawke's character's moodiness and shenanigans (singing the Violent Femmes' "Add It Up" quite pointedly aimed at her), Winona Ryder's character still decides that he is the man she really wants. After the movie, my mom pointed out that Winona Ryder's character had to make that decision. She said that every woman loves a challenge, and that Ethan Hawke's character was frustrating and complicated, and those are actually good things. This conversation made me laugh back then, but now I think that her words apply very aptly in this case, not to men, but to tomatoes.