Summer Days and School Days

School started this week in our area. Calvin started ninth grade this year – the dreaded and exciting high school. Though he has been in the same school district since kindergarten, and he has always started school this early in August, it still seems insanely early to me.

School, when the summer cicadas and katydids are still singing? School, when it is still blazing hot? Well, not this year, but I’m not complaining at all about the beautiful weather. School, when we are still eating summer produce in all its glory?

DSC_0053Though the school year is in full swing, and our activities feel like fall, I am hanging onto summer at least a few more weeks. The fall spices, pumpkins and apples can wait a while, as far as I’m concerned. Summer is still here and I’m hanging on to it – long days, garden vegetables, lemonade and all.

Summer cooking for me has involved a lot of zucchini this year, and not quite as many tomatoes as usual. It all comes down to what is doing well in the garden. We have had spotty success with tomatoes for the past few years, so this spring we decided to give the soil a rest from tomato plants and raise them in pots.

Well, that was a failure – we had a grand total of eight cherry tomatoes and one larger one. The plants just never took off in the pots, and the deer took care of most of the fruit we did get on the vines. To top off the season, a deer ate two of the plants down to stubs. I bagged the whole experiment in mid July. I am trying a second, fall crop of tomatoes, but in the garden this time, behind the lattice fence that was supposed to keep out the rabbits. It seems to be doing a fine job deterring the deer too.

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We have had good luck with zucchini this year, at least. I have one plant, count it, one. It currently is taking over the garden. We have had several huge zucchini that escaped our notice under the insanely huge leaves. One weighed three pounds and the other was over four. There really was nothing to do with those but shred them, since they were so big. They found their way into zucchini tots, lemon zucchini muffins and the freezer. We have had a lot of smaller zucchini too, using those on pizza, and in zucchini chips and zucchini planks.

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Calvin’s first week of school is just about over. I think it calls for a celebration, which in our house usually means something special from the kitchen. I wonder if he’d go for zucchini cake? Probably not. Guess it’s time to break out the chocolate.

The Fruits of Summer

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This year’s tomato harvest started with a trickle of red fruit – one cherry tomato every few days. And that was if I could beat the deer to them. I can’t tell you how many tomatoes I picked that had one dainty bite out of the side. We have a small family of a doe and her two fawns that have adopted our neighborhood. They are so comfortable that they relax in the shade of the trees in the afternoons. Bucolic suburbs, anyone?

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We haven’t seen the deer as much lately. I guess our neighbors have tastier offerings in their yards. Fine with me. We finally have had a couple of substantial tomato harvests. I actually had to get a bowl the other day, instead of holding the red bounty in my hands. In fact, I had to get two bowls and they were both overflowing. I spent a little time gloating over the piles of red lusciousness before taking them inside.

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As often is the case we didn’t deal with the harvest right away. I was stumped over the best way to use our many, many cherry tomatoes. They are nuggets of summer tomato tastiness, but they do have a high ratio of skins and seeds to flesh, which makes them slightly problematic in sauce.

After two days of sliced tomatoes and quick sautéed pasta sauces, and after I noticed the first fruit fly, I had to do something. We had more tomatoes ripening every day. I settled on roasting as the most efficient method to deal with the bowls of red guilt that were covering my countertops.

I usually remove the skins after roasting, but I couldn’t see taking the time to peel all of the melting globs of cherry tomatoes. And then I would lose the caramelized, roasted skins, with all of their rich flavor. I decided to chuck the whole lot into the food processor, peels and all. It pureed into a thick, bright red sauce with dark flecks of toasted peels. I am already dreaming of pulling those bags of summer sunshine out of the freezer on a cold, dark December day.

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What is your favorite way to use vine-ripened, picked at the peak of freshness, summer tomatoes?