This past week of raging heat not only caused you great discomfort, it left your garden patch high and very dry. For starters, your tomatoes are sure to be suffering from heatstroke and sunburns, said Dick Biggs of Rock Hill Orchard, a 60-acre producing farm in Mount Airy that offers pick-your-own hours.
"We are beginning to see sun scorching. Whenever the foliage is not covering the fruit, especially in temperatures like we've been having, from the low- to mid-90s, the sun will sunburn the tomato, no matter if it is green or half ripe," said Biggs.
As most areas are also receiving virtually no rain, the leaves are drying and wilting, thereby exposing even more of the fruit to the sun. The damage to the tomato, he said, runs a quarter-inch deep and can be permanent, inhibiting the affected area from ever ripening properly. However, he says, the inside of the tomato is still fine to eat.
Many home growers are now beginning to get their first tomatoes and the best way they can nurse their sun-struck plants through the heat crisis, said Biggs, is to give them a good slow soaking twice a week. Let the hose trickle at the base of the plant for 10 minutes, giving each plant about three gallons of water.
If you overwater or water too quickly, the tomatoes will soak up too much liquid and crack. In the case of a big thunderstorm, Biggs suggested picking any half-ripened tomatoes (even those with only a tinge of red or orange), for these are the most susceptible to cracking. You will lose no taste, he said, because such tomatoes will continue to ripen off the vine.
And of course, when they do start ripening, they never seem to stop. For most home gardeners, using the bounty requires patience, imagination and a good sense of humor. Here's one recipe you can use for your crop. Quick and easy, it asks only that you have salt and pepper in your cupboard before starting out for the express lane.
Express Lane List: olive oil, onion, garlic, tomatoes, basil, white wine, fish fillets, shrimp
SAN PEDRO CIOPPINO (4 to 6 servings)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
4 tomatoes chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon julienne-cut basil leaves
1 cup dry white wine
1 pound fish fillets, cut into large chunks
1/2 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
Heat the oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until the onion is tender. Add the tomatoes and their juices, salt and pepper to taste, basil and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the wine, fish fillets and more water, if necessary. Return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the shrimp. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, or until shrimp turn red. Serve in large bowls with french bread, if desired. Adapted from: New California Cuisine" by Rose Dosti (Abrams, 1984)