Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Tomato Harvest

The Harvest, 1993

The yard at our last home was a veritable Garden of Eden. Prior to its development into a subdivision, our neighborhood had been a strawberry farm. Back then you could have seen from the site of our house all the way down to Broad Bay.

The soil on that old farm had been well tended. Even thirty years later it was rich and moist. It was a great yard for a gardener, sunny yet protected from the harsh northeast winds of winter by high hedges.

Before we moved to that house, I’d never had a vegetable garden any more ambitious than a few cocktail tomatoes grown on a patio. But this yard came with a 100’ x 30’ vegetable garden. The previous owners of the house had worked the garden with a neighbor, who provided a tiller and a lot of vegetable gardening know-how.

We loved that garden. It fed our two families and a lot of friends and neighbors. From that garden I learned the lesson of patience and also that there are few things as fulfilling as pulling mature beets out of the ground.

There are many memories from that garden. But the one I cherish most was the September night in 1995 when, in anticipation of the first frost, my neighbor Roy and I decided to collect the last crop of tomatoes and make tomato sauce.

Mind you, we didn’t decide to start this project until after dark. The wives and kids had gone to bed already. Roy and I grabbed flashlights and hung a few strings of Christmas tree lights to illuminate the garden for this last tomato harvest of the season. Rabbits and turtles went scurrying in all directions when they saw us lumbering down the rows with our buckets. There were almost three dozen plants to empty.

The amazing thing about this enterprise, in case you wondered, is that no alcohol was involved. The frenzy was fueled purely by the prospect of fresh homemade tomato sauce. A good garden can do that to you.

Through the night we went back and forth between the garden and the kitchen, loading and unloading pots of tomatoes. We took turns in the kitchen, scalding the tomatoes in pots of boiling water and then dropping them into a sink of ice water to loosen the skins. It was well after midnight before we were ready to begin the actual sauce. Sometime after 3:00 a.m. we threw in the last tomato, loaded the pot with spices, and went home to bed.

As any of you who make tomato sauce will know, it takes a lot of tomatoes to make a good sauce. You start out with what seems like mountains of them. But after you’ve simmered that mountain for a day or so, you end up with just a pot or two of sauce. I don’t remember exactly how much we ended up with from that night’s harvest. What I do remember was the feast we had with our two families and some other friends a few nights later. The sauce was superb. The big long kitchen table was full of food, drink and noisy people.



  1. Hahaaa--I can definitely imagine that feeling--food fresh from the garden is so enticing. I'll bet that sauce was fantastic.

  2. How wonderful! You remind me of my husband who used to make fantastic, artisan-style homemade bread...at 3am. I can taste the homemade tomato sauce now....Thanks for sharing this!

  3. I'm especially impressed by the amount of commitment demonstrated in your story. It's wonderful when an idea spurs action which carries through to completion. My husband, good in so many, many ways, would never in this world harvest tomatoes in the dark of the night, much less start them cooking. Bravo!