Imagine my glee this morning when I read in one of my favorite columnists, a threnody for our woeful summertime. In fact, just because clicking on a link is sometimes more than one can ask of friends, I want to copy the whole darn thing here:
We have known the sadness. We have known the walking up and down the streets and shaking our heads and saying, "No, no, no, no" in a low but semi-hysterical voice. (Try that some time; it's not easy.) Some of us have wept in our closets, so as not to alarm the children.
Oh, we were smug. We were residents of the Bay Area, and we know something about resisting the smug. But we can't always do it. Things are just too good. Not that we wish any ill to our friends and relatives east of the Sierra; quite the contrary. We love these people as though they were our own children, as they often are.
So when they had a heat wave and we had a cold wave, and by any objective measure their heat wave was a lot worse than our cold wave, we did not experience schadenfreude. (OK, maybe a tiny bit. We are only human, and smug. It's not a lovely character trait, but really hard to avoid here in the best place on earth. I mean no disrespect to Fiji.)
But for every up side, there is a down side. Usually, at this time of year, we would be living almost entirely on tomato sandwiches, with maybe a little tomato and mozzarella salad mixed in for variety. Because we are locavores (which is a relatively new coinage meaning "people who eat crazy stuff") and because anyway the best tomatoes are always found at farmers' markets.
Right now, we would be eating 'Early Girls' like anything and rejoicing in the first appearance of the Dirty Girl brand of 'Early Girls.' We're still eating the tomatoes, but we are not happy. Our foggy weather was too foggy. Even a tomato conditioned for cooler climates likes a little sun now and then. Drizzle is not its best friend. And so, so far, the tomatoes are not at their finest.
Not even close.
Oh, and where are the 'Green Zebras' and the 'Brandywines'? We see them, yes we do, but we do not taste the essence of same. They still look really weird, but looking weird is not enough - unless you're in the music business. Maybe that's why there is no music business anymore.
What will September be like? Will we be back to root vegetables already? Oh, look, darling, we could have a rutabaga sandwich with whatever kind of cheese goes well with rutabagas, which is, like, none of them.
Ah, but what of our heat wave, those two days of hell we had last week? Because we are really secure, smug people, we can laugh at how much complaining we did for 48 hours. People were pulling out their white lightweight garments and walking around like bedouins. People were remarking on the ambient temperature in various buildings.
We were silly people. We enjoy being silly people because it hides our steely determination to rule the rest of California. I bragged about my eaves, as I always do. Eaves help a house stay cooler. I felt sad for the eaveless people, and not in a smug way.
And anyway, perhaps it meant new hope for the 2010 tomato crop. Did this two-day blast of heat help the tomatoes? Did it plump up those 'Early Girls' and inject them with that last soupcon of flavor that's the difference between a transcendent experience and a nice red salad ingredient?
I tried looking up tomatoes in California Crop Weather Report. It did mention warmer-than-usual temperatures, but what is "usual" these days? It also said: "Tomatoes are being treated for stinkbugs." Great - all we need; some bioengineered super stinkbug. Not that it mentioned that; I am being alarmist. Will I never taste a truly fine tomato for less than $12 a pound?
Well, I had to look. Stinkbugs, members of the family Pentatomidae (from the Greek meaning "five sections," which refers to their antennae), emit a foul-smelling substance when disturbed. Smells like cyanide, say experts.
Just what I needed to hear. I shake my fist at the unhearing heavens and cry out, "When will I ever taste a tomato of quality, and not one of those supermarket gassed-up cardboard things? Is it too much to ask for someone who has, well, pretty much everything, but that's not the point?" The heavens, being unhearing (see above), do not answer.
Oh, well. There are some good Frog Hollow peaches out there. In which we cry out to the uncaring heavens, asking only for flavor and a little salt.
Made me guffaw right into my Earl Grey. Especially the line about living in the Bay Area requiring constant practice at resisting the smug, as though it's some special yoga brand. Ah well, I indulge myself.
Really, though, for those of you having counters groaning under pounds and pounds of tomatoes to be made into sauce, and salsa, and paste, and other good things, look. Here is the near sum total of my backyard planting of as near as I can tell, about two dozen tomato plants:
Notice that many have bug bites, or sun scald, and some of them are bright green? That one, at least, was an accident. Cherokee Purple, the occasional sulky Early Girl, and the Romas and San Marzanos that are sort of vying between ripening/rotting/being eaten by sowbugs as they lie on the ground. They don't even taste that great this year. Sure, feta and olive oil and red wine vinegar don't hurt, but I like tomatoes a lot. . . and these aren't worth it.
This was Not The Plan for this summer. To be fair, neither was a terrible flea infestation or family upheaval, but hey, I can't control the weather. My father in law suggested that I could buy tomatoes by the bushel and can them. I could. . . but last year when I did that they were $2 a pound, and I'm not up for that. I could perhaps drive 40 minutes away and get them for .60c a pound -- if they're available from the farm that's advertising on Craigslist.
We shall see. If I have a free day next week, maybe I can arrange a drive down there. Wonder if they'd let me glean for free? Or if not, I'll just look for a sale on canned organic tomatoes and stock up for the year.
And why, you might ask, why not wait for the warmer weather that you call "fall" in your expensive-but-lovely-weather-area? Well, because I don't think we have time:
That vine is collapsing like the old-fashioned paper straws that only lasted for about a third of your milkshake. Some blight -- not the vaunted late blight, I don't think - but some blight is crawling up the vines all across the garden. I won't be composting these babies this year. Short of broadcasting kale or cover crop seeds (or kale AS a cover crop) I'm not sure that I'm not going to be facing an awful lot of empty real estate in the garden soon.
The End, then, probably the End of the tomatoes. Except for the Sungold, rot their bright little hearts. The Sungolds will produce no matter what, for months. That isn't as cheering as I might think, alas.