In the spring and summer, The Hunter turns into The Farmer. At the moment we are drowning in tomatoes. This is not by any means a bad thing, but two people can’t possibly eat them all, no matter how creative I get. One day last week at lunch, I wasn’t very creative at all and served the orange, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, halved and heaped up in a bowl.
This superfluity of tomatoes made me think of my grandmother. My mother’s mother grew up very poor, leaving school at 14 to help support her family. Grandma loved tomatoes, but in their poor accommodations, her family did not have a garden, and tomatoes were too expensive to have except once in a great while. Grandma told me that when she was young, she thought heaven would be marrying a man rich enough to buy her a basket of tomatoes whenever she wanted. Grandpa wasn’t wealthy, but he was always happy to buy her as many tomatoes as she could possibly desire.
Grandma never learned to drive, so my mother would take her grocery shopping. In the summer those grocery trips often meant a stop at Lombardi’s – a small farm stand – for fresh stuff. And grandma would sometimes buy that whole basket of tomatoes she had dreamed about growing up. How she and my grandfather ever managed to go through that basket before the tomatoes went soft, I don’t know. But, I guess when you have spent your youth longing for tomatoes, you are happy as an adult to eat them with every meal when you can.
That lunch last week also included a dish of cucumbers – something else that is pouring out of the garden. Earlier in the day I had begun experimenting with making some refrigerator bread and butter pickles. I really want to put up some jars of pickles that will last us through the winter, but the current hot and humid weather is not filling me with enthusiasm for boiling vats of water on the stove. So for now, the refrigerator method will have to do. The Hunter assures me he will be bringing me another armful of cucumbers tomorrow morning, so it’s not as if we are going to run out of the raw material any time soon. And maybe the weather will cool off enough to process some pickles in jars.
As the recipe directed, I sliced and salted eight cukes and let them sit in the refrigerator for an hour or two. After rinsing the slices, but before mixing them with the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds and turmeric, I did a bit of nibbling.
What a revelation! I have never prepped cucumbers this way before. They were delicious! Salty and crunchy. Almost a substitute them for potato chips. I had only made enough for the pickle recipe, so, with lunch in mind, I immediately sliced once more cucumber, salted it and put it away in the refrigerator.
This Hunter/Farmer of mine is a man of many talents. The centerpiece of this lunch was not his garden tomatoes and cucumbers, as delicious as they are, but a black sea bass he had pulled out of the ocean only five days earlier. Lunch that day was a spread food and lifestyle magazines would go crazy over: local, fresh, colorful, sustainable, simple. And to think I did not take any pictures. That’s what happens when you are too busy enjoying life and forget you are supposed to be starring in some kind of drama you then share with perfect strangers. Even if I had remembered pictures, though, there is no way an image would have conveyed how delicious it all was.
Which leads me to something I read recently: in an article about unspoiled Greek Islands, a thirty-something olive grower said: “I think the old ways are the best.” For him, those old ways included a garden whose produce can overwhelm at times, fresh caught fish and simple meals. I am in complete agreement.