Taking in the last of summer's bounty

The last of Jan Roberts-Dominguez' backyard cherry tomatoes fit beautifully into her Corvallis Fall Festival find, a porcelain bowl made by Eugene potter David Parry of Whistle Post Pottery.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez, for the Gazette-Times

So there it was. The last vine-ripened beefsteak tomato that my garden would be offering this year, unceremoniously sliced and nestled between crisp sheets of lettuce and bacon, with a slathering of mayonnaise on whole wheat toast. The taste was immense. Perhaps better with the knowledge that it would have to last me nine months because purists only make bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches while their gardens are providing the tomatoes.

Then I started in on the cherry tomatoes. Another night or two of temperatures dipping down into the 30s would affect the heady flavor of those sweet little morsels. So I made what would be my last sweep through the vines, seeking out all remaining perfect specimens to plop into my Corvallis Fall Festival find, a gorgeous porcelain bowl from Eugene potter David Parry of Whistle Post Pottery. When I stopped at his booth, this creation of David’s spoke to me of summer eclipses and deck-side dinners of fresh greens laden with a cornucopia of juicy tomatoes, zesty cukes and rambunctious peppers.

I always get this way in October. Wrestling with the idea of letting summer go. It’s such a five-star season: fabulous weather, memorable hikes into the Cascades and bountiful crops from which we produce delectable meals and a pantry full of luscious preserves. How dare autumn intrude.

But it arrives despite my protests. Of course, one year, so did a letter from my mother. At the bottom she had scribbled a quote from Thoreau: “Live in each season as it passes. Breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of each.”

How did she know? Thoreau’s words helped me move forward, that year and forever after; leaving summer behind and getting on with making the most of Autumn. A very good season after all.

And so, now that winter is close, the sun is growing longer shadows and shorter rose bushes. Certainly, the mid-autumn harvest produces its truckloads of cranberries, hazelnuts, apples and pears — all of which will find their way into our kitchens.

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But it's a more leisurely state of being, these last three months of a cook’s calendar, without the imperatives of capturing the high harvest. Use the time to reflect on the great meals you produced amidst the chaos, and the ones still to come if you managed to fill your pantry with a few jams and relishes.

And if you are so inclined, ready yourself for next year. Ponder which crops to plant, what jazzy new piece of equipment to buy, how many canning jars to have on hand. After all, the fresh true taste of a summer tomato isn't as distant as you might think.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or find additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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