Monday morning—the last Monday of August—I started this fall’s first batch of Stonebridge tomato sauce, an act that signifies that the “putting by” part of the farm season has begun.
I’ve already been drying tomatoes from the greenhouse for a couple of weeks, but the first big pot of onions, garlic, peppers, and heirloom tomatoes simmering all day on the stove means I’ll be spending the next four or six or eight weeks—depending on the first frost—putting up food for the winter and early spring. We had sauce on pasta for dinner that night and the rest went into the freezer for a snowy night when we need a quick and hearty meal.
We laugh that our tomato sauce could be called “a delicious blend of vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes”—but that really means “made from whatever tomatoes were left over after Saturday’s pick-up at our CSA.” They are vine-ripened and heirloom, including rich yellow and red Brandywines, green-shouldered Cherokee Purples, pinkish Mennonites, striped Vintage Wines, hefty Amanas, heart-shaped Russian Annas, and pointy Opalka and squat Amish pastes, but they’re usually the least attractive or most compromised of the tomatoes and thus left behind, all the better for saucing.
Today I’ve got another batch of paste tomatoes in the dehydrator, along with the Juliets, which are small, oval cluster tomatoes that we planted in both the greenhouse and the fields. They grow three to a cluster and are perfect sliced in half lengthwise for drying. This is our first year growing Juliets, a variety we picked to complement the cherry Peacevines in the greenhouse, and we’re impressed by their size and productivity. I depend on deep red dried tomatoes for putting by because they’re like a little piece of sunshine in the deep of winter.
At a seed-saving lecture recently, we learned that while Juliets were developed as a hybrid decades ago, their seeds have been carefully selected for so many years, they’re now essentially an heirloom. That means that the big seed growers don’t have to cross-pollinate them from parent plants anymore but can save seed from the fruit instead. Of course, most seed companies don’t want you to know all that or you’d save your own seed rather than buy from them, but we do know now, so we’ll save Juliet seeds to replant next spring.
Seed-saving is part of putting by at Stonebridge, where we save our favorite tomatoes and peppers in little scalloped sauce dishes all over the kitchen table, transferring them to glassine envelopes when dried. Just today a friend dropped by with an heirloom early, cold-night tolerant tomato called Precocibec that she tried for the first time this year. After I save the seed, the tomato will go in the veggie korma, an Indian dish I’m making for dinner with zucchini, onion, green beans, carrots, and potatoes from the garden.
I wish I could capture in words the glorious weather we’re having here on the Front Range of Colorado right now, days in the upper 80s with just a hint of coolness in the air. We’ve had a lot of moisture this summer and some beautiful blue skies canopied with white clouds. Last night we sat with friends after our last softball game of the season and watched as the western clouds gleamed rose-pink over the mountains and one tall cloud in the east was caught in the last of the sun’s rays, glowing white longer than the darkening clouds around it.
When earlier sunsets and cooler days of the receding summer remind us of the coming cold, putting by begins in earnest on the farm. This morning I spent time in our new drying hut, a gift from a friend who built it from reclaimed materials for a music camp in the Rockies as a luthier workshop. We inherited the hut–christened “Egg” after the other bird-named cabins–when the camp applied for heritage status and the satellite disk roof didn’t quite fit the building criteria for the camp’s auspicious history.
This is the third of our disk-roof huts and they’re all useful—one for tools out in the field, one for wood by the house, and now this one for herbs under the shady cottonwoods by the greenhouse. We added an old multi-paned door fitted with doorknobs salvaged from my grandparent’s farmhouse. Inside we store garlic and shallots for our members in the coming months and dry herbs on a discarded window screen set across two campstools. A rewindable clothesline from the 40s stretches from side to side for hanging bunches of herbs like tarragon and rosemary.
I love this little hut. Sheltered under the trees, it’s dry and clean and out of the direct sunlight that can fade herbs. It reminds me of the arched chicken coop-turned-playhouse at my grandparent’s farm where we served tea to our dolls in discarded cold cream and canning jars.
This afternoon I’ll start drying herbs in the hut for our Thanksgiving share—an extra harvest of roots and squash and alliums we’re offering this year for the Thanksgiving meal and more. Thanksgiving is only 11 weeks away and we have lots of vegetables to harvest before then, but I’m happy to start thinking about the end of the season as I put by today’s sunshine in vegetables stored for the winter.