Ever since I started going to the Ferry Plaza Farmers market in San Francisco in the mid-90s (which used to be at the corner of Green Street and Embarcadero back in the day), I’ve been one to eat by the seasons. Which is pretty easy when you are going to farmers markets that have as much variety as you could ask for. It means something a bit different when you are growing the food yourself. It means that you get tired of things that you normally love, like fresh tomatoes off the vine! And it means you are eating those things long after you would be if you were just buying produce at the market.
Last fall was my first experience with the tomato phenomenon. We had all been gorging on tomatoes and packed two freezers full of them, but we still had hundreds of tomatoes on the vine when the first freeze came in early December. Ramon and I ran out with headlamps and harvested at least 300 green and semi-green tomatoes in the dark. Tomatoes in all shapes, sizes and colors filled our kitchen counter space until we managed to eat them or they went bad (and into the compost bin). We had fresh, home grown tomatoes until late January.
So this year I’m trying to get a better handle on it. I’ve been busy preserving as many tomatoes as I can in myriad different ways: fire roasted salsa, harissa, ranchera sauce, roasted cherry tomatoes packed in olive oil, canned whole tomatoes, sundried tomatoes…and we just had our first fried green tomatoes. It was also an odd tomato season in general. Even though I got the plants in earlier than last year, they ripened later. With the exception of the cherry tomatoes, we didn’t have ripe tomatoes until the first week of September. July was exceptionally hot which, believe it or not, set back the growing season. Tomatoes optimally need between 65 and 85 degrees, and they actually stop growing above 95 degrees. Nearly the entire month of July was above 95 degrees.
So here we are in early November and our tomato vines are still producing, and I’m still preserving. Although this year I’ve gotten into canning and left the freezer out of it. While it can feel stressful to have a garden full of tomatoes that must be dealt with or that’s it, they end up in the compost bin, it’s also given me a lot of room to experiment with different ways with tomatoes that I never would be able to do if I were buying them at the farmers market at $4/lb. And let’s face it, it’s still self-imposed stress since if I let a few tomatoes go into the compost bin it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
So here is my favorite recipe so far this year – Ranchera Sauce. We’ve loved it so much that we’ve eaten it nearly as fast as I can make it, so I don’t think I will have any to sell at the Reverie Boutique on November 16 (although I am making up another batch this weekend so I will have some samples on hand), but I will have Fire-Roasted Salsa and other preserves, dried herbs, vinegars, and pickles from our garden for you to sample and buy if you are so inclined. Hope you can make it!
Adapted from a recipe by Diane Kennedy in her seminal cookbook “The Essential Cuisines of Mexico”
- 1 lb. (450g) tomatoes, grilled and slightly charred on a grill – I’ve been using a mixture of different types coming out of my garden, including cherry tomatoes
- 4 serrano chiles or any fresh, hot green chiles, charred on a grill – I’ve been using small green Trinidad chile peppers that have been crazy prolific this year
- 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
- ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Blend the tomatoes, chiles, and garlic together until fairly smooth. Heat the oil, and fry the onion gently, without browning, until it is translucent. Add the blended ingredients and the salt and cook over fairly brisk heat for about 5 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan until the sauce has reduced a little and is well seasoned.
This is traditionally used for huevos rancheros, but we’ve been putting it on everything, including grilled chicken tacos, egg burritos, tostadas with cheese and avocado.