If you read Kitchen Clatter with any regularity, you know of my love for Jersey tomatoes. I love to drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle on the salt. I love to slice them thinly and layer on bacon, lettuce and mayo. I love to sauté them and make homemade sauce for Sunday dinner. I love everything about them…..except planting them. I hate to garden. There is not much I like less than working in a garden. Be it flowers or vegetables, it doesn’t matter. I know most women enjoy this activity and I so wish that I was one of them. But I’m not.
My sister Betty waits impatiently all winter to be able to work in her flower garden. The first warm spring day calls to her and she answers by being the first in her neighborhood to hit up the local garden center for petunias and mulch. As the season moves forward, so does her garden with flowers that are more adaptable to summer’s heat, and she keeps pace right through the mums of autumn. I, on the other hand, usually just buy a couple potted plants and sit them on my porch. Betty’s passion for gardening converses with nature in a way that says “Welcome Spring, I have been waiting much too long for you”. Mine says “hey, how you doing?”
In the middle of the gardening scale between my sister’s adoration and my apathy is my husband Mike. Like me, he doesn’t put too much thought into impatiens or daffodils, but when it comes to his vegetable garden, well, he gives Betty a run for her money. And let me tell you, the man has a plan. He starts in March by cultivating a small patch of land with a tiller that could turn over the lower 40 (if we had that much acreage). He then “feeds” the soil and allows it to “rest” until early May. (There is apparently nothing in the garage that warrants the attention that his tomato garden gets. Unfortunately)
Then before you know it, comes that late spring Saturday morning where we go to the nursery and pick up our green beauties to bring home and plant. Mike wanders up and down the aisles, picking up the Romas, beefsteaks, plum and heirloom tomatoes, and intensely determines whether they go on the cart or back on the ground. I watch this ritual year after year and can’t honestly say what makes one plant better than the other. But he apparently does and I won’t argue with the results. His tomatoes are simply the sweetest I taste each summer.
The next tent we enter is dubbed the “house of heat”. Mike’s eyes actually start to glaze over at the thought of which plant will produce a sinus clearing, eye tearing, sweat bearing, brand of pepper that will explode in a pot of chili. Jalapenos and habaneros are for amateurs. He looks for pepper plants that come with warning signs, like “wash your hands before touching any part of your body after handling this pepper” Wow, a heat warning before you actually ingest it. At least the signs seem to be targeting their audience.
After he makes his selections, he will eventually pick up a few bell pepper plants for me. (He makes me carry these so they are not seen with the “real” pepper plants on his cart.) But I’m okay with that because I have a passion for Italian sausage, pepper and onion sandwiches in the summer and I want to be able to touch anywhere, anything, anyplace on my body without reaching for a fire extinguisher before I cook it.
By the end of the day, everything will have been planted and then the waiting begins. As the weeks go on and the garden grows, I start to acquire what I call my summer name....Someone. As in “someone should weed around the plants”, or “it hasn’t rained in a few days, someone should water the garden”. Watering is not bad, but weeding is right alongside gardening as things I least like to do. But I guess someone has to do it.
Then somewhere in the beginning of July, the magic happens are we are picking tomatoes and peppers on a daily basis. One of our favorite summer treats is to strain a can of string beans, cut several cherry tomatoes in half, and add to a handful of diced Vidalia onions, a couple twirls of extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Easy and delicious salad!
I may not like gardening, but I love this spring/summer ritual that goes on at our house each year. The tomatoes still growing in September are canned and frozen and used for sauces and soups all fall and winter. But for now, we are still in the waiting to bloom stage, and impatiently at that. I was sitting on the deck, starring at the garden when my husband opened the door and said, "If we want the garden to grow even faster, someone should fertilize it" Hmm.....