This year wasn’t a great one for my tomato patch. Not a novice tomato farmer, I typically harvest enough for at least 30 pints of frozen tomato sauce.
But not this year.
The plants themselves grew tall and reedy. Early on, I had to prune a ton of yellowing foliage from the bottoms to help them grow. Our spring was just too wet. The branches closest to the ground weren’t getting enough sun or air flow, and the wet ground was causing rot.
Those spindly vines, standing upright supported by giant metal cages, are full of fruit now—green fruit.
But they’re not getting ripe.
Goodness knows, as soon as they show any inkling of blush, our local gray squirrels will pluck them from the vine, take one bite, and then display the tomato prominently on a fence post where I surely won’t miss it. I’ve heard they do that because they’re thirsty. I am certain they do it because they are mean.
Someone told me that growing tomatoes is like devoting three months of your life to saving $2.25.
But it’s never been about the tomato itself for me. Sure, pulling that frozen sauce out of the freezer, tasting summer in the middle of winter, is brilliant. But the best part by far is knowing that I grew it. I tended it, watered it, fed it, weeded it and pulled it right before the squirrels could. I made food from practically nothing, and that’s magical.
And you know what I’m talking about here—the magic part. The part where you start with the basics and feed hundreds, sometimes thousands. You nourish and sustain so many people, from the very young to the very old, with the fruits of your labor. Sure, my fruit is a bit one-note, while yours is far from monotonous.
The planning and thoughtfulness behind your menus became evident when we surveyed our Chefs’ Council on what is shaping their menus today and how those trends will affect how they plan them in the future. Always searching for balance, our Chefs’ Council members often look to push the boundaries of their diners’ preferences, but at the same time work hard to make them feel at home with dishes that resonate with who they are and where they come from.
Next year I’ll try and recapture some of my own magic by rotating where I plant my crop, perhaps opting instead for a super sunny spot in my side yard instead of the raised beds in the back. And maybe I’ll add a water trough for the squirrels in case those little suckers get thirsty. But I have a hunch: You can lead a squirrel to water, but you can’t make it stop tasting your tomatoes.
What’s on the docket for your menu next year? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.