California dreamin'

July 28, 2019

They say that scent memories trigger the strongest memories and emotions and it's very true for me. The distinctive scent of tomato leaves bring back vivid memories of my childhood when my granddad was a commercial tomato grower in Southern California. I'm 14 in that picture above, sitting on a tractor next to the man I loved so much. I'm certain his spirit follows me around as I'm tend my own garden. I reach down and the distinctive bouquet of the tomato leaf instantly transports me back to Ventura County where he lived and farmed. Spending a summer night at granddad's meant waking up before dawn, shivering into shorts (later on it would get so hot!) and then covering up with a sweatshirt. We sat in an ice-cold kitchen and ate bacon and eggs and toast prepared by my great aunt, my grandfather's older sister who tended house for him after his wife, my grandmother, died. We would then hop into granddad's Ford pickup where a scratchy wool blanket was waiting for me. We drove on bumpy lumpy dusty dirt roads as the sun rose, past endless miles of cornfields, tomato fields, bean fields, and orange and avocado orchards. Depending on what field we were checking on that day, we might head west to the coast to check on his tomato fields in Oxnard, or as far north as Ojai where it was hotter and everything ripened sooner. (I learned early on what our California micro-climates meant to a farmer.) We stopped at noon for lunch, always at a Mexican cafe, both of us being big fans of spicy cuisine. Our favorite spot was the Owl Cafe in Camarillo, smack dab in the middle of nowhere. I marveled at how my grandfather found it each time--there were no landmarks that I could see, just fields and more fields, then plop, a little cafe would appear off in the distance. (Over the years, and after my grandfather had died, that little cafe was eventually surrounded by a shopping center and a housing development.) My husband and I are lucky that we have our 2 year old grandson visit us often, and as we spend time with him, a lot of that time is spent in the garden, I wonder what he will retain and what he'll recall. What memories will he hold? Those pictures of him above are too funny! He is really putting his back into his work! We bought him his own set of miniature tools so he is quite prepared!

These last two weeks we've had some big tomato harvests.  One day we picked 40 pounds of tomatoes, that's 3 large buckets, and they totally filled my sink. I saved a lot for giving away and for eating fresh, but I also made 14 quarts of roasted tomato sauce. I'll end up with over 30 quarts in the freezer before summer's over and over the course of a year we'll use it all for spaghetti sauce and tomato soup, plus other recipes too. We're having a great tomato year but our green beans, cucumbers, pattypan summer squash, and beets are doing well too. It's just a good year all around! I've got some links to share below:

Here's my recipe for roasted tomato sauce. It's awesome!
We plant a few dozen tomato varieties each year, but these are the standouts for flavor:
Red (and Pink) Brandywine are my husband's favorite. We also have seeds for a black Brandywine that we are going to try next year. I love the black tomatoes and
my favorite black/purples are Cherokee Purple and Black Krim.
The big almost-two-pounders pictured above are Kellogg's Breakfast. Delicious and gorgeous.
Mortgage Lifter and Big Rainbow do well for us too.
We love Sun Gold for a cherry. These pack a big tomato flavor in a tiny fruit and are sweet and tart without being too sweet. Some cherry tomatoes leave me cold with their extra sweetness. These are great!
We LOVE this green bean variety and now will plant no other because they have great bean flavor without being sweet--again, I don't like the trend towards sweetening up every vegetable and def. not in my beans! They grown nicely on the upright bush and have long, thin, easy to pick pods. 
I make pesto once a week and put it in the freezer in small containers to use later in wintertime.
Here's my favorite recipe for pesto.
Ugh, I cannot find the name of the cucumber variety we planted this year. It's great for eating fresh and pickling and I think I got them from Burpee. Doing some searching now because I want to plant them next year. The plants stay on the smallish side and are nicely bushy and make fab pickles.
Dan Kochansky has the BEST recipe for dill pickles. They are easy too. I make several batches a week all summer long, and while we eat a lot, I also hand out jars to friends.
We've been invited to a few summer potlucks and I always volunteer to bring a veg. dish and a platter of pickles. Here are two recipes I found this year that were big hits with everyone.

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  1. Thanks for your memories of your visits with your grandfather. Keep writing.

    1. Thank you. Writing is cathartic, isn't it?

  2. I love this post, Kristen. It takes me back, too, to my young adulthood in Ventura County. I lived in Oxnard, Ventura (where my daughters were born), Santa Paula and finally Fillmore which lies just over the mountains from Ojai, where there used to be a pass connecting them, before I left California. Much has certainly changed in over four decades.

    1. My mother was born and raised in Fillmore and I know the town well. My mother just passed away earlier this year, but before that, we would go back every year and visit old friends and drive through town. Not much has really changed in that little town I can tell you! I still love it!

  3. I loved this post. For a knitting blog, the tomatoes do really well! I am not familiar with most of those varieties (I live in South Australia) but the quantities and what you do with them intrigued me. I very much enjoyed reading all of this!



    1. Thank you Janise! I imagine every different country and region has their own tomato varieties that do well in their area. The ones that we grow are heirlooms. They are older varieties that are grown for flavor and other factors that appeal to the commercial grower are not really considered. The home grower doesn’t usually mind a fussy plant!

      I know you are in the middle of winter. Enjoy!

  4. Wow, you hit the jackpot with this post. Your tomatoes are amazing! I will definitely make roasted tomato sauce because it is delicious. I made pickles using Dan K's recipe and used Persia cucumbers, which worked well. Perhaps that is the variety you used.


    1. Did you buy the Persian cucumbers at Costco? We love those and think they would make great pickles.


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