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Swimming in Tomatoes
My dad has been sick with cancer for a few years now. It's been a tough road but he's doing better. For most of my dad's life, a gift from his father, he has savored the joys of summer gardening. But cancer robs its victims indiscriminately as it did my father's vigor and vitality due to losing part of his lung, chemo, radiation, and recovery. For two seasons, he put gardening aside and let his fields be fallow. That left seed starting to me, something I don't do well at and tend to drag my feet on. Last year, I got very sick as well with Type A Strep, otherwise known as Toxic Shock. By God's dear grace, I'm still here. But two days before I got sick, I planted my seeds...in April. Which in Illinois is late, very late. And I reseeded the back yard after a very hard winter! Thanks to my family they were all watered and yielded a lovely harvest and grass this year's winter managed to kill as well. So this year, I had very good intentions. But I still managed to drag my feet. And I didn't plant grass.
So I visited Dad, just on the off-chance he planted some seeds. Which he did much to my pleasure and a sure sign he was feeling better. Tragically he had already planted his thriving seedlings and had nothing left of any viability. But he said I could certainly take the sickly ones if I wanted them. He was just going to throw them away. So sad, dead flat in hand, I went home and as soon as the ground was ready, I planted -15 tomato plants and one oddball eggplant, all with little chance in the world of surviving. Sad little things really. Droopy, pale, kind of like I felt that day. But I watered them and in high hopes put giant cages around them that looked like skyscrapers sheltering a daisy. I fertilized and watered. And to my astonishment, they grew a bit.
And then came my son's wedding and a two week vacation. With promises to return the favor, I enlisted my gardening enthusiast neighbor to water my spindly garden in my absence. Apparently he did. For on my return, not only had ALL but one of those dying plants survived, but they had soared over two feet and were now in the grand company of at least one-hundred volunteer tomatoes from the fruit I couldn't keep up with last year. I had more tomato plants than weeds to contend with! Over the next month they exploded and toppled their cages requiring stakes and twine and cutting back. I was rewarded (ha) as they blossomed and set fruit. But as harvest began I realized I was in over my head and my neighbors were not amused by my overzealous attempts at generosity to which I resorted to anonymous donations instead in unmarked grocery bags. Yellow, heirloom, pink cherry plum, sweet one-million (literally I think), beefsteak, Better Boy, Early Girl....and the eggplant...what to do, what to do. Tomato and eggs, BLTs, fried green tomatoes (in an attempt to curb the harvest but delicious!), tomato chutney, tomato soup, gazpacho, salsa, sofrito, chili, sauce, paste, sundried... Oh God help me! But we're surviving and fall is approaching so the harvest is slowing.
So if you're swimming in tomatoes, here's a salsa recipe that is a winner with any kind of tomato you are overwhelmed with. Of course, I could juice them which would make for a nice Bloody Mary I think. Better check the garden again!
Oh, and on a side note...while it seemed brilliant at the time to plant the green beans alongside the sunflowers, I failed to account for the ten-foot height of the sunflowers and now cannot reach half the beans without a ladder. Note to self...
Mary's Salsa Mighty Picante!
Makes about 1 gallon of fresh salsa so I don't know what you are going to eat. That's a serving for me (not really or I'd be as big as a house and in the bathroom alot)
5 lbs tomatoes, any variety, even cherry, cored and chopped to your liking
8 cloves garlic pressed
2 large sweet onions chopped fine (red is fine too, I like Vidalia when available)
6 seeded jalepenos chopped very fine (and do not try to take your contacts out after chopping the peppers...I'm just saying)
4 serrano peppers chopped very fine (repeat above comment)
1 large green bell pepper chopped fine
1 large yellow bell pepper chopped fine
1 large cucumber peeled and seeded chopped fine
2 stalks celery chopped fine
2 large bunches cilantro washed, stems removed and rough chopped
1 bunch Italian parsley washed and chopped
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 4-6 limes (forget the key limes they don't juice well. And if you even think of using that bottled junk I will DENY your comments and not let you follow my hub!)
1/2 tea cumin
1 tea cayenne pepper
3 packets Goya Sazon or 2 tea Goya Adobo (if available) - watch the salt you add later
Splash or red wine - okay now we're making gazpacho which if you just blend this whole mess up and use cilantro as a garnish not an ingredient you might as well have made it in the first place.
Of course if you don't like to chop by hand, use a food processor for each ingredient, just don't try to do it all at once unless you have a chopper the size of popcorn bowl. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Now get your hands in there (wash the hands first please) and squeeze the whole thing through your fingers repeatedly to release the juices and break up the tomatoes. You can do this in small batches in a food processor (NOT a blender, trust me) but it's not nearly as much fun. Add salt as needed and more lime if you want. If it's not hot enough, adjust with more peppers or just add more cayenne pepper. Don't add hot sauce, it alters the flavor. If you like it stupid hot, feel free to add habeneros. It's a bit much even for a Texas gal. I like hot, but personally, I like my salsa to have it's own special personality without it altering mine. I don't believe in hot for the sake of hot. It's got to be about the flavor. Now set it aside so the flavors can get to know each other on an intimate level in the fridge. Overnight is best, like soup, always better the next day. But an hour or two is fine if you can't wait.
Serve with your favorite tortilla chips, I like Sabinas but making your own is as simple as a deep fryer and cutting up flour or corn tortillas in to your favorite shape and frying them until crisp and seasoning with a little salt. But I'm lazy. I leave the frying to my husband when he's around. If you're feeling foo-foo fancy, toast up some slices of a nice french baguette and voile, you have bruschetta, or top the toast with the salsa and a sprinkle of queso fresco or goat cheese and broil it...oh the possibilities are endless! I love my salsa in tomato soup and with my fried eggs or in an omelet. It's just so good.
This salsa freezes very well in bags or containers and keeps in the fridge for about a week or two tops as the tomatoes tend to take on an odd vinegary flavor in my opinion. Normally, salsa doesn't last more than a couple days at my house so I freeze plenty ahead of time and keep that to myself! And yes, in the off-season you can used your canned tomatoes or store bought like Rotel or just a nice stewed tomato in its own juice. There's no shame in that. But while you've got them fresh, by all means, use them.
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