It is official that this farming season will go down in my record book as the hardest one yet. A decade of farming this land under my belt and each comes with its own bag of tricks mind you. But this summer season….now this is pandora’s box in comparison. Unbelievable oppressive heat with field temps over 120… floods, drought and pests coming out of the woodwork now we have tomatoes splitting left and right. Mark and I were harvesting Friday evening for Saturday’s CSA pickup and market, this is a grueling job harvesting in such hot humid weather not to mention buggy. Very buggy… the nice part though.. it was just Mark and I alone out there in the field we have worked so hard on all these years and it seems like we are never together just the two of us working together anymore. So I will say I was really enjoy a few moments with my husband as we walked out into the farm that we built. We had our arms filled with stacked bushel baskets as we made our way to the bottom of the field…the first bed to harvest is a 40 foot long bed of heirloom Brandywine tomatoes. These are the big beefy type tomatoes that are considered slicing or sandwich tomatoes very juicy and delicious. These tomatoes date back over 100 years and were the 1st tomato to be sold in mass before the H1 hybridize types replaced them in the late 60’s. Most people recall Brandywine tomatoes as the tomatoes their grandparents grew in their garden. The thing with Brandywine’s is that the fruit gets large and will weight down the stems causing it to snap under the tremendous weight of their fruit. These varieties like most heirloom tomatoes grow very tall some over 7ft. they are hard to keep tied up or staked and are even harder once the branches are laden with heavy fruit. I have tied these plants up 3 different times this season and still they insist on escaping or just breaking off at the point where I have tied them. As Mark and I make our way to the bottom of the field both of us expecting once again to find several of the tomatoes split. With this kind of weather this season it is inevitable and unpreventable with field grown tomatoes to a degree. The reasons for tomatoes splitting on the vine is due to harsh environmental changes such as drought, heat or an over abundance of rain during the ripening stage of growth. Sound like the description of our weather here on the farm for the past three months right? The last couple of weeks we have seen more and more of the heirlooms ripening and more and more of them splitting as they do so. Think of it as you going without food for a couple of days and then having a huge meal in a pair of really tight jeans…now bend over and touch your toes… this is what in essence is happening. While green these tomatoes have weathered weeks without a rain. Remember we went through the month of June without seeing a drop here on the farm. Before that May we had too much rain…biblical flooding rain…and then nothing…dry as a bone…brutally hot temps so the tomatoes tightened up in their green skins to conserve what water they had left. Mark and I expected smaller tomatoes in lure of this as well. July we had 2 good soaking rains fall on the farm and not a moment too soon..we are just within days of losing the whole field…burnt, parched and withering on the vine. Nothing but rain would save the farm at that point. When the rains did fall the thirsty tomatoes drank…and drank…and swelled and rush to ripen thinking they might not get another chance…(yes I know…I have given tomatoes a brain now…and they are thinking) But it is all about the life cycle in the plant world and most of these cycles last but a few weeks…so these babies are on a mission here…sprout…grow…set blooms…set fruit…ripen..set seed…drop seeds…parent plant dies…baby seeds wait…spring…sprout..the cycle begins again. If this cycle is for whatever reason is disrupted from bugs, sickness or environmental reasons the plant will kick into over-drive and often enough skip a few steps to finish their life cycle. Hence smaller fruit, less fruit and mal-developed fruit. Put it this way the state of Tennessee with be lowering their standards at the state fair this year for what the best in show tomato looks like:) This is just not a problem we here at Madison Creek Farms are having alone…I can assure you every farmer and gardener is seeing some degree of all the above.
CSA Shareholders…As shareholders in the farm this will indeed affect you the most so I wanted to address some issues and solutions to help get you deal with this splitting tomato problem..
1. Splitting tomatoes are more a cosmetic problem then anything else. In other words the tomatoes are fine to eat. They are not rotten nor have pest in them. They just have these like splits in the skin…that is all.
Heirlooms tomatoes for the most part have very thin skins unlike the hybridized tasteless types at the grocery stores. These cardboard counterparts look lovely indeed flawless for the most part but taste like…yes cardboard. They ship well and picked green have a shelf life of three weeks to 5 weeks. Heirlooms need to be picked ripe and have a shelf life of 3 to 4 days. they bruise easily so shipping is out of the question. Locally grown and vine ripe is the only way to get a great tasting tomato.
2. Splitting tomatoes need to be used quickly. They will not keep for long. Here are 3 ways to use up these splitting tomatoes.
1. Eat them fresh. Just remove any area that is split or you don’t want and eat the rest.
2. Freeze them. This is what I do a lot of with all my tomatoes split or not. Summer time is an over abundance of tomatoes this is an easy way to enjoy that sweet taste of summer during those cold winter months.
Remove the stem and core the tomato. Cut away any area that needs to be removed. You don’t need to remove the skins just the areas that you don’t want. Quarter them and place into a food processor. Pulse to chop the tomatoes a couple times…rough chop you want nice chunks not juice. Drain off excess juice and throw the chopped tomatoes into a plastic freezer bag and into the freezer. They are ready to add to your soups, sauces or any dish that would want to add tomatoes to.
Now if you want…and I always want a good short cut in cooking…while I am chopping my tomatoes in the food processor I add a couple of cloves of garlic and a few fresh herbs like basil and thyme in with the tomatoes and pulse them all together. This way I have a good start to my sauce and it’s fresh…organic and I don’t have to add or buy anything else. I am ready to go. A lot of folks asked about removing the skins off the tomatoes before freezing them by blanching the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute then pouring them into a ice water bath making them easy to peel. And you can do that if you prefer. If I weren’t dealing with heirlooms I would take that additional couple of steps as well. I personally have found though these thin skinned types of heirloom tomatoes aren’t a problem for me skipping the whole peeling skins step. I can’t tell a difference.
3. Make a extra large batch of sauce for dinner then freeze some for later. This is my pasta sauce recipe…extra large, yall know old farmer Mark has to eat something when I am on tour…right:) P.s. this is also a great way to use the frozen tomatoes with herbs above during the winter…just reduce the amount of ingredients for a smaller batch..and don’t refreeze.
The FarmHouse Kitchen’s Heirloom Tomato Sauce
6 cups fresh chopped tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
4 cups of water
1/4 cup of finely chopped basil
1 tsp of fresh thyme
1 diced onion
4 cloves of fresh garlic
juice of 1 lemon plus 1 tsp of lemon zest
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped stalk of celery
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup of Merlot wine (any good red wine will do)
1 tbs of olive oil
In a dutch oven over medium high heat add oil and fresh thyme…this will flavor the oil. You will need to stir it around for just a minute to keep it from burning. Add your onions, garlic, carrots, celery and 1/2 of your fresh basil. Stir…cook for another 2 minutes. Add your fresh chopped tomatoes. (if you are using your frozen tomatoes just add them frozen to the vegetables in the dutch oven they will thaw with the heat. give it a good stir to incorporate the flavors. Add your wine to the pan and allow it to cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the wine has evaporated. Add your tomato paste and water to the tomato mixture. add your lemon juice, zest and sugar. Add your basil and seasoning…like salt and pepper. I use a seasoning called Spike…you can find it in the health food section of most grocery store that carry health foods.
Cook until mixture has reduce or about 45 minutes.
Now if you want to add ground turkey or beef to your sauce by all mean do. You will need to add it after you have cooked the onions and carrot mixture then drain the fat before adding the wine. then continue following the recipe.
Okay….well I hope this helps our CSA shareholder with dealing with splitting tomatoes this season. I know this has been a rough summer, we have really tried to keep your basket coming and diversified as we can. If any of you have any other tips you would like to share with other shareholder about any of your produce and what they can do to make the most of their goods. Please post them here on the blog. We all love learning something new. Remember this is your farm…harvest the flowers, tomatoes and herbs. A CSA share is just a basket of food..a CSA shareholder is farmer at heart and a lover of a slow food adventure.
See yall soon back on the farm,