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Becky's Food Tales - September 2, 2013

By Becky Hoff

Fri, Aug 30th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

Tomato Season - A Tale of

Irrational Gardening

Tomatoes are easily my favorite thing to grow in the garden. Every year I have to try new heirloom varieties in my quest for ‘The Perfect Tomato.’ This year I have no less than 11 varieties planted in the back yard garden. Some are favorites that I have planted before like Pink Brandywine and Amish Paste. Others are new to me- Cherokee Purple, Pineapple, and Cherry Roma. I realize that this may seem like a lot, but it never seems like enough to me. My tomato obsession has me casting a critical eye on my back yard, trying to find space for yet another raised bed. My husband thinks the garden is big enough, but then he is the one who has to build those new garden beds in the spring!

I’m going to confess something here: I’m not really a rational person when it comes to my garden. Every winter I make grids, and plans. I discuss them (to death) with my husband. I review my notes from last year, and revise. A sensible plan is drawn up, and then I start looking at seed catalogs.

This is where many people run into problems. Picture it- it’s dreary and cold outside. The Christmas ornaments have long been packed away, and each grey day blurs into the next. You just shoveled out the end of your driveway for the second time that day. Then you open the seed catalog. The colors are bright, the descriptions make you long for warmer days. Each variety of plant sounds better than the next, and you start thinking that you need to try every single one. You begin to order your seeds, and the list of vegetables and flowers that you must plant gets longer and longer. Last winter was particularly blah, so I got a bit carried away. This is how we ended up with 30 tomato plants in the back yard, and nine more in buckets. (And don’t get me started on my pepper plants!)

This year the tomatoes have been very slow to come, so I’m glad I went overboard. As I’m sure others have noticed, the tomatoes really seem content to stay green this year. The cool night temperatures of August received no affection from me! Hopefully September will bring better weather, and a good quantity of ripe tomatoes.

I am happiest when I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. When tomatoes are in full swing, my husband and I use them up making BLTs, pasta dishes, fresh salsas and salads. I will slice tomatoes and dehydrate them, making ‘sun dried tomatoes’ that last all winter in airtight jars. And then there are the canning recipes: salsas, bruschetta in a jar, tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes. Every year I dig through my recipe books and the internet looking for new ways to use up my tomato bounty. And when inspiration and creativity fail me, I just freeze them or share them with friends and family.

Some seasonal foods you can easily get your fill of; sweet corn is delicious, but I really only need to eat it a few times per season to be satisfied. Eggplant and zucchini are great, but you can only think of so many ways to prepare them. But tomatoes? I never get tired of tomatoes. The following recipe is a good way to use up your cherry tomatoes, as it calls for a good two pints. It’s delicious served with focaccia bread to sop up the juices. Add a nice garden salad and you have a well rounded meal!

Cherry Tomato & Oregano Chicken

2 pints of cherry tomatoes

About 1/4 cup olive oil (don’t use the extra virgin stuff here, something suitable for high temps is better in this recipe)

5 crushed or pressed garlic cloves

1/2 tsp (or more!) crushed red pepper flakes

2 TBLS chopped fresh oregano (Or marjoram, or basil, or parsley... Just grab whatever is growing good in your garden, though I really recommend oregano or marjoram for this dish.)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. (I know, 450 seems high. But trust me!)

Season chicken with salt and pepper, and lay in a lightly oiled baking dish.

Toss tomatoes, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and olive oil together in a bowl. Pour this mixture over the chicken breasts. Sprinkle top with more salt and pepper. Roast uncovered for about 35 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the tomatoes are blistered into a state of delicious perfection.

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