Posted by: morrowsl | December 5, 2020

Life. And Green Tomatoes

I have never been big on decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving is over. Or before Thanksgiving leftovers are no longer a viable choice for lunch. And possibly again for dinner. The exception, of course, is outdoor lighting, which my sister insists be hung when she and I are together for my birthday on November 16th. But, as a rule, I view decorating for Christmas too early as simply an invitation for Karma to visit.

Pie, of course, is for breakfast and doesn’t even enter the equation.

However, we have good reason to seek out the comforts of Christmas this year. Even if the idea of spending money on decorations and gifts instead of more important things, like food or rent or even gas for the cars we aren’t driving because we’re not really going anywhere, makes no sense. It’s been a really shitty year. And we need a little Christmas.

Karma be damned.

So, all around me, people have been throwing up Christmas like it’s already December 23rd and we’ve all been trapped in a time warp that held us motionless for weeks. This started well before my birthday and was not limited to department stores and 7-11. We totally jumped the line and ignored the warning signs.

In a normal year, I try to at least start decorating the weekend after Thanksgiving. Typically, I will have a few gifts purchased and tucked away but the bulk of my shopping has been done, historically, in December. This year, not normal. I started shopping in January when my niece got married. The reception took place near a little shop that had a Christmas clearance sale. I took advantage without realizing that all shopping to come would be done virtually, or possibly not at all.

My other break from normal happened at the Garden Center in late summer when I selected a tomato vine in a 4″ pot knowing full well that it was really far too late and that I hate tomatoes. To sharpen that point, I left the plant on the porch for a couple of weeks to dry out and croak. I think I planted it in September. Maybe.

These two totally unrelated things define 2020 for me now.

The oldest grandson was here for his Thanksgiving break and we were due for a deep freeze. The break ended on Sunday and the freeze was due on Monday. I managed a thorough house cleaning on both floors starting Friday after Thanksgiving thinking I’d get the decorating done as well. That didn’t happen. The cleaning went well and stuff got pulled out of the closet, but that freeze meant a list of last minute chores like making sure the chicken coop was snug and the heat in the greenhouse was working. By early evening on Sunday we were coming down the wire. Mike hauled the garbage container to the road and I put out some scratch for the girls. As I made my way up the hill from the chickens to the greenhouse, I was thinking about all the green tomatoes still hanging on that single vine in the garden. Sister had taken home a bucket already and I’d made spaghetti sauce once. Still, I knew the plant was loaded. And I can’t stand the idea of waste.

A singular vine purchased as a 4″ pot and left to its own devices.

I figured I’d get another handful of ripe fruit and let the rest go. But there were literally dozens of huge green tomatoes and my heart just wouldn’t let me walk away. I hailed Mike as he came by and he stopped to help. We kept it up until it just got too dark and cold to keep picking. Inside the house, I weighed the bag.
Twenty-five pounds! This plant did absolutely nothing for weeks. And then, this.

Our wagonload of tomatoes.

I wasn’t about to leave a grocery sack of tomatoes to ripen on my counter. So I took advice from a friend and looked up a recipe for making spaghetti sauce from roasted green tomatoes. I had everything I needed, except fresh basil. I had two basil plants in the garden, but they’d long since gone to flower. I went forward processing tomatoes anyway. I figured if the recipe worked, I’d freeze it. And basil can be added later on.

Bright and early Monday morning, I flipped my kitchen curtains to Christmas, then turned on the oven, pulled out my two biggest casserole dishes, and started running water in the small side of the sink. My thought was to wash all the fruit at once. But it ended up being way too many and I couldn’t reach the bottom to open the drain. I dumped about half the tomatoes into the other side of the sink and spread a couple of towels on the counter. And, for the next fifteen minutes, I sorted, washed, and piled.

My recipe called for four pounds of processed fruit. I could blanch the skins off or leave them on. Same idea with the seeds. When I’d made my first round of sauce, I scraped out the seeds. I still had way too much to do to spend any time on that, so I opted for a rough chop with skins and seeds. I also needed onions, which I usually can’t manage at all. I’m so allergic to them, my eyes water just smelling them with the skins still on in the grocery! If I do chop them, my eyes burn and ache for hours after. Lucky for me, Mike is a nice enough guy to be a willing onion slicer/chopper/dicer. He came to my rescue and I chopped garlic instead.

And then the power went out. The lights flickered a couple of times and I was hopeful it was just a surge.
But no, full on power failure.

Everything in our house runs on electricity. Including the ovens. Nothing to do for it but call the Co-op (after checking the bill, which I knew was paid, but…) and wait. In the meantime, I weighed out four pounds of processed tomatoes and started cutting up the second batch. I am a sucker for big bowls and it would seem my mother-in-law was as well. I found an incomplete 4-bowl set of Pyrex nesting bowls at the farm along with another two-bowl set. I brought them all with me to Remote. The largest is 4 quarts, so I used that one to hold the chopped fruit. I split it into smaller bowls for mixing with the onions, garlic, salt and pepper, pepper flakes, and olive oil. Then spread this into my two casserole dishes.

Ready to roast

By now it was late afternoon. I washed dishes and cleaned up my mess while I waited the hour it took for the electricity to come back on. Finally, it did come on and the oven got hot again. I put the two casseroles into the oven and went upstairs to sort through the rest of the decorations that were coming back down.
When I opened the door, I could hear a faint beeping, but really didn’t think much of it. I went in and dragged the last of the totes out of the closet and pulled out the things I still wanted to use.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

I found the decorative hand towels and chose one for the upstairs bathroom. As I rounded the corner to hang it…

Beep. Beep. Beep.

I followed the sound to the hot water closet, pulled the string for the light, and read the displayed message.

A103. Tank Is Empty. Fire Hazard.

OH CRAP!!!

I took off down the stairs. Passed by the kitchen to turn off the oven. Rushed to the bedroom to pull on long pants, socks, and boots. I ran out to the shop to tell Mike about the hot water heater and was met, as I so often am when I sense pending disaster, with a calm and studied expression and a list of questions. It is likely one of his most infuriating traits that has probably kept me from creating complete chaos as I tend to be Chicken Little at the first hint of a falling sky. He reluctantly followed me back into the house and up the stairs to the tiny closet off the bathroom. We pushed some buttons and still the display displayed an alert. He leaned back to think and I grabbed his phone to call the number listed on the unit for customer assistance.

The line was busy.

I called a total of four times before it went through. The lady that answered asked a list of questions, including email address but stopping just short of blood type. Then she transferred me to the next person in line. At this point, my sense of doom was fully bloomed. I could well imagine being sent into transfer Hell only to be disconnected a few seconds before our less than two-year-old hot water heater blew us both skyward.

The lady answering the technical support line was very nice and quite calm, which is always a good sign. She asked a few questions and put me on hold to check to see if the heating elements on our unit were designed to shut off in the event that the water supply was compromised and the owner too stupid to turn the unit off.

They are. And I am.

While I was talking, Mike was checking his email. Seriously, dude?

Eventually, the women in the room decided there would be no fire. The well pump is electrically managed and the power failure caused it to shut off. The heater, sensing a loss of replacement water, did not allow the heating elements to come back on after power was restored. The man in the room was allowing his wife an opportunity to learn instead of be dependent on him. Which he’s done to a remarkable degree since we moved to the country where there are new experiences daily.

Once law and order was restored to the upstairs, I went back down to bag up the roasted tomatoes and put them in the freezer. By now, I had a remarkable headache and realized I hadn’t stopped to eat all day. I also failed to drink any fluids other than the one cup of coffee I started the day with. Sure fire road to sick, that.

Roasted and ready to freeze.

Eventually, I did get all the decorations up. The house is clean enough. The water is hot again. And I am thankful to no longer be intimidated by my hot water heater. I’m just not sure about green spaghetti sauce. If it turns out, I’ll have something to make from end-of-season green tomatoes in the future. But the plan for next season is to plant earlier and avoid buying in late summer.
I still have a huge bowl of ripe tomatoes. So, I’m thinking I’ll make roasted tomato and basil soup next.


Responses

  1. Your house looks absolutely beautiful. And I really, truly want to hear how the green tomatoes work out!
    And by the way… You are not Chicken Little! You’re learning about country living… That makes you brave! Good for you!

    • Thanks, Dinah! When I put the tomatoes in the bags for freezing, I felt the were a bit sour tasting. So, when I thaw them for sauce, I’ll add a bit of sugar with the basil.
      I’ll let you know how they do!


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