November 24, 2011 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Fortitude never tasted so delicious

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Tomato plant is seen when it was a young sprout.
(Full-size photo)

Today is Thanksgiving, a day for gratitude, for gathering around the dinner table in large and small numbers and for reflection on the many gifts of our lives. I am this day grateful for tomatoes.

I don’t mean to trivialize the larger intent of the day, the giving of thanks for the truly great gifts of love and family and all that we hold dear. But I just can’t get my focus off those tomatoes. Sometimes it is about the small stuff.

OK, some background. I grew one heck of a tomato plant this year, and no one was more surprised than me. I am pretty much garden challenged. My roots are urban, and in childhood I learned that veggies come from the produce section of the grocery store and meat arrives neatly packed in cellophane.

And on top of that, I’m living in a house surrounded by pine trees, which spotty rays of sunlight occasionally break through. Last year I tried a tomato plant in one of those hanging-upside-down thingies that are advertised on TV, placing it outside my front door, where the sunlight, though infrequent, is the most abundant. And some tomatoes actually popped out – only to be decimated by the deer that came through and stripped that puppy clean.

This year I opted to try one lonesome tomato plant in a big ol’ pot out back on the deck – the deck which faces north and is surrounded by magnificent ponderosas. I was hopeful, as there is a stream of sunlight maybe six inches wide that travels across the very northern strip of the deck, the only deer-free zone we’ve got.

And to ensure the very best sun exposure, we put a sturdy board across the northeast corner of the deck’s railing and put the pot on top of it. From my kitchen I could look out and see the elevated Beefy Boy thriving and watch the breeze jostling it as I rejoiced in its growth. I fertilized, watered and tied branches heavy with green tomatoes to the tomato frame to keep them supported.

One day in August, I turned my gaze toward the deck as I puttered about the kitchen and – horror! – the plant was gone. I rushed out and looked down. And there it was, on its side one story down on what would have been a lawn had we managed to remove the pine needles. I hurried around to its rescue. Many branches were broken, tomatoes were everywhere and much of the dirt had bumped out.

My husband came to do the heavy lifting. We scooped up what dirt we could, hauled the plant uphill and returned it to the deck, securing it on the surface of the deck this time (sacrificing the extra sunlight its previous elevation had provided), trimming broken branches and retying wounded branches. Bruce’s analysis was that it had gotten too top-heavy up there on the railing, and when the breeze came up, a swan dive was inevitable.

The number of tomatoes lost was significant. But I continued watering, fertilizing and talking gently to my plant – even apologizing for my acute tomato ignorance. Dumb novice. But lo, many blossoms turned into little tomatoes, and the tomatoes already formed before the aerial maneuvers grew larger and began to show color. I was so happy.

And then it started to get cold – which, I am told, is the bane of all Inland Northwest tomato growers’ existences. I sought advice from friends and the Internet on how to ripen green tomatoes quickly – trim all the new growth, stop watering, pick the tomatoes and place them on the counter or in bags with a slice of apple, etc.

Nuts to that. This plant had moxie; it tried to fly. The least I could do was give it a shot at finishing what it had started. So I dragged the whole plant inside. Well, Bruce did. It was quite a feat because it was huge, I mean really huge, and we had to tie it up to get it in off the deck without breaking anything off. I placed it in front of a glass slider door in my dining room, along the west side of the house, where it got some – emphasis on some – broken afternoon sun. But the best thing it got was warm nights (courtesy of the furnace).

I am very happy to report that every single tomato on that plant ripened and was eaten by Bruce and me, though we did give a few (very few) away. They were all delicious, as homegrown garden tomatoes almost always are. I just had the last one two weeks ago, and I miss being able to walk into the dining room to pluck a tomato for a sweet-onion-and-sliced-tomato sandwich.

I can’t express how much pleasure that plant gave me. So as everyone is all involved with turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie this day, I’m pretty sure my culinary gratitude will still be somewhere in tomatoland, honing in on those wonderful thick tomato slices and the adventures of the Plant That Took Wing.

I am so thankful for that whole experience. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@ comcast.net. Previous columns are available at www.spokesman.com/ columnists.


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