In February, before I said final goodbyes to my partner and my daughter, I bought a packet of heirloom tomato seeds. They didn’t have a name, but promised to have loads of beta carotene that held up under canning. Extra vitamins in the long dark months of winter in the Pacific Northwest.
My little seeds grew to tiny plants in the dining room. They grew as my attachment to the man I had hoped to marry broke and I began the long season of missing him without reaching to him. I sat on the floor and watched the wee plants unfold, thinking of a happier summer ahead.
In April, strong enough for a short journey, I gave 10 away, transplanted 20 into pots filled with the soil mixture recommended in
All New Square Foot Gardening, and set them on the front patio to grow.
They looked small and cold, buffeted by the Northwest marine breezes. So I covered them with pint canning jars -the same ones, turns out, I canned them in five months later.
I got the guest room ready. My daughter was coming in early June after her last hectic days of college. It would be our final summer ‘just us, like it always was.’ She, off to England to her vocation and her man there. Me, proud of her accomplishments and honored that she would spend a final summer with me.
At the feed and garden store, I tried not to compare my frail starts to the tough and burly adolescents for sale there. I hovered over mine, eventually changing the pint jars to quart ones – a good sign. Suddenly, in June, they took off, tough and strong.
My daughter arrived thin and weary and our summer began. In this glory place of water, mountains, osprey, eagles, horsetail, cedar, salt and wind, I cooked for her, while she longed for the partner she would soon be with. She tended to me, who would not be with mine. She cried easily. I cried easily. We knitted and read and talked. We watched seven seasons of All Creatures Great and Small: The Complete Collection. We did not sleep well.
Out front, looking east to Mt. Pilchuck, nineteen tomatoes grew strong. One stayed small and frail, trembling in the warm breezes. That one, I spent extra time chatting up, based on a study that they grow better if talked to by a woman. By July, I was glad there was no man to contend with. I wanted them all for us.
They grew and flowered and thirsted. My daughter tended them, too, watering deeply and well morning and afternoon. In July, she counted 92 tomatoes on the largest plant. The smallest, my avid listener, had produced one. Hurray for her!
And then the tomatoes ripened the way popcorn pops: slowly, then faster, then in an explosive rush. The first one we picked reverently, with gratitude to The Mother. We praised it, sliced it in half holding our breath, then breathed in the juicy scent of coral-red. It tasted like sun, like our island, salty and loamy.
My little seeds grew to lusty mothers, who spilled their bounty and shared easily. When the fruit was red and ripe, they let go.
It was not so easy for me, but I prayed each day for the will to release my child gracefully. She got stronger and calmer. I let go of my man some more. We finished up our knitting, and she left for good.
She left before the time to put them by, before the height of the harvest. I picked them by myself. She lives now in her heart’s home, far away across the sea, and I live in mine, here, facing east to the Cascades, alone and content.
When next we meet, I’ll take her a jar of salsa, and she can share our summer tomatoes with her man, and remember our tending that brings nourishment in the long stretch of winter ahead.
Island Summer Salsa
|Chopped cored peeled tomatoes
|NOTE: If you are new to canning, please carefully learn
how. There are endless sources!
Here’s one: Ball Blue Book of Preserving
1. Prepare 6 pint jars
(but you probably will only use 5)
2. Combine all ingredients in a stainless steel pot.
3. Bring to a boil and stir frequently.
4. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently,
until slightly thickened.
5. Put hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1 cm headspace.
6. Carefully remove bubbles, wipe rim, center lid and screw band down tightly.
7. Completely cover jars with water and process for 15 minutes in boiling water.2 cupsChopped peeled cucumbers2 cupsChopped sweet yellow peppers1 cupChopped green onions1 cupChopped peeled roastedAnaheim pepper1 cupChopped seeded jalapeno peppers Zest of 1 lime1/2 cupCider vinegar1/4 cupHoney1/2 cupLoosely packed finely chopped cilantro1 tbspFinely chopped fresh marjoram1 tspSalt2 tbspLime juice