Rather to our surprise, we've been having something of an Indian summer around here. If it's not raining -- and it's been raining a lot -- it's been fairly nice. Therefore the garden has managed to cling on longer than expected.
Last week, after several days of unremitting rain (note the full wheelbarrow below), we had a frost expected.
We had a light frost in mid-September that juuuuust passed us by but nailed the gardens of neighbors less than a mile away, so we've been taking our chances and letting the tomatoes continue to ripen. This time, however, I knew we wouldn't escape the frigid temps. Time to harvest tomatoes.
When harvesting tomatoes just before a killing frost, you don't just pick the ripe ones; you pick everything, and worry about ripening later.
We naïvely started with a single bucket.
Well that didn't last. Numerous buckets and tubs and wheelbarrows later, we finally had every tomato stripped. We also pulled the cayenne peppers and red bell peppers.
Sure enough, the next morning the tomatoes were dead; but the harvest was safe in the house.
After several days of tripping over all this bounty, I knew it was time to process the tomatoes before they went bad. So I set up my faithful Victorio food strainer and got to work.
Well, the more I cranked, the more the tomatoes seemed to multiply every time I blinked. I cranked and cranked and cranked and cranked and CRANKED and cranked. I cut and trimmed and sliced and cranked some more.
The two large bowls I optimistically hoped would hold all the purée quickly overflowed, so I scrubbed out a 4-gallon bucket and used that instead.
By the time I'd cranked my way through all the ripe tomatoes -- well after dark -- the bucket was nearly full. Honestly, what did I ever do without this Victorio strainer? It's worth its weight in gold.
Then it was time to bag everything up and freeze the purée.
Then I scrubbed, and I mean scrubbed, our beloved but scarred and stained kitchen table, to get all the goop off.
After all this industry, I had lots of tomatoes left over. Some are still underripe, some are juuust barely starting to flush red, and some are green and hard.
Don found a large shallow box, so we dumped most of the tomatoes into it...
...and scattered some bananas among them. Bananas release ethylene, a natural ripening agent. In the closed environment of the box, the tomatoes will ripen slowly over the next few weeks (we'll have to periodically plunk out the ripest ones as we go).
A layer of newspapers, and the rest of the tomatoes went onto a second layer with more bananas. By the way, not every green tomato will necessarily ripen; my understanding is a tomato has to have even the tiniest bit of color or it will just stay green. But we dumped everything into the box because, well, what the heck. We had room.
Then we closed up the box.
This box has such excellent proportions that we'll probably hang onto it for future tomato harvests.
Eventually I'll cook the purée down and turn it into sauce, but it's too early for two reasons: One, as the green tomatoes ripen, I'll be adding to the purée inventory in the freezer; and two, we're still not using the cookstove 24/7 for heat (maybe about 16/7), and since the purée will take several days to cook down into sauce, I'll wait until we have the stove going constantly and take advantage of the heat.
Glad that chore is done!