Eating What I Have, Not What I Wish I Had

In the late summer, I began watching my Mississauga garden for ripening tomatoes. There were lots of fruit on the plants, but they were all green. It was a little disappointing because I love red tomatoes, in every imaginable form. Green tomatoes have never held the same appeal. But then, I’ve never been encouraged to try one.

When I left Mississauga for Pouch Cove in late September, I introduced the house family to my plants and the many large green tomatoes, and felt cheated: those plants hadn’t ripened even one tomato for my benefit.

In Pouch Cove, I wandered through the garden and was delighted to see several tomato plants, full of large green tomatoes. I was content, for about two weeks.

Last week, when Elke announced that we were going to a neighbour’s home for a community potluck Thanksgiving dinner, she suggested to me and Thomas that we think of something from our little garden that we could bring as our contribution. Since I’d been secretly lusting after Elke’s tomatoes, I suggested trying to make something with that harvest. Elke sighed.

“The tomatoes didn’t ripen this year,” she told us a little sadly. “I just picked a big bowl of them, and they’re all green. I think it was the weather this year.” With that, she turned to do a few things in the kitchen and left me to ponder.

Through my life runs a series of disappointments. Years ago I determined not to give into the obvious response, and instead always saw them as unexpected opportunities, only packaged as a disappointment. Here was another little one. Online, I found a recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes. Lots of people eat those, so I reckoned they’d have to have some appeal. Checking with Elke, I discovered we had all the ingredients needed. She agreed to give me as many tomatoes as I wanted, because she couldn’t imagine another plan besides leaving them on a windowsill to ripen, and she’d already given into despair.

Yesterday afternoon, three hours before our dinner was scheduled to begin, I pulled out the recipe. Elke and Thomas graciously disappeared to the barn to give me space.

From Elke’s bowl of tomatoes, I pulled anything that looked reasonable. “Slice the tomatoes into half inch slices” the recipe suggested, so I needed fat tomatoes, not misshapen or skinny ones. The harvest had given an abundance of fat green ones, so I was in luck. Then, I lined up three bowls: one had flour and cajun seasoning (which I made by combining a series of spices from Elke’s stores), one had eggs and buttermilk, and the last one had a combination of dried bread crumbs  (from Thomas’s earlier homemade loaf, no less!) and corn meal.

The recipe was simple and the tomatoes looked pretty lined up for dipping, then dipped, then frying. Because my hands were also being dipped and coated, I couldn’t use the camera, so I took some shots from other sites on the web. Yes, they really do look this good!

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Tentatively, I took a plate of two cooked tomatoes to the barn. Thomas hesitated because his hands were dirty, so I gently fed my friend my experiment, and at once his face lit up and he gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. Of course, Thomas is a very encouraging sort, so I still worried. I shouldn’t have. Elke too was enthusiastic.

Walking to our neighbour’s home at five p.m., I carried my large glass plate of fried green tomatoes, a double batch of the recipe. People gathered to see the contribution, because while we’d all heard of this treat, no one at the table had ever tried it before. We were all guinea pigs.

Everyone took at least one on their plate and the verdict was unanimous: we all loved them! I came home with just two fried green tomatoes, and those only left over because there was so much food on our bountiful table.

Fried green tomatoes are almost as good eating as a ripe, red tomato. Almost. And you might not believe this, but they`re awfully good cold, for breakfast. I`m eating my last two fried green tomatoes as I write. Life is full of opportunities.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serves four.

Ingredients
3 medium, firm green tomatoes
Salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp cajun seasoning (see recipe below)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Method
Cut unpeeled tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices. Sprinkle slices with salt. Let tomato slices  stand for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place in separate shallow bowls: the flour and cajun seasoning, buttermilk and egg, and bread crumbs and cornmeal.

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat. Beat the egg and the buttermilk together. Dip tomato slices in the flour-seasoning mix, then buttermilk-egg mixture, then the cornmeal-bread crumb mix. In the skillet, fry half of the coated tomato slices at a time, for 3-5 minutes on each side or until brown. Set the cooked tomatoes on paper towels to drain. These are fantastic with a little Tabasco sauce or remoulade.

Cajun Seasoning (makes 3/4 cup or 175 mL)
1/4 cup (60 mL) paprika
1/4 cup (60 mL) dried parsley
2 tbsp (30 mL) garlic powder
2 tbsp (30 mL) dried oregano
2 tbsp (30 mL) dried thyme
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cayenne pepper

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Foraging Like a Graffiti Artist

In my travels, I see a lot of graffiti. One of the things I’ve noticed about graffiti is that the artists sometimes choose to leave their work in challenging locations, called heaven spots. Wikipedia describes it like this:

Heaven spots are pieces that are painted in hard-to-reach places such as rooftops and freeway signs, thus making them hard to remove. Such pieces, by the nature of the spot, often pose dangerous challenges to execute, but may increase an artist’s notoriety. This term also encompasses a double-meaning as the locations are often very dangerous to paint there and it may lead to death, thus, going to heaven (also known as “hitting up the heavens”).

As Thomas and I followed Elke along the coastline this afternoon, and listened to her description of the foraging activity she had planned for us, I was reminded of these graffiti artists. I wondered momentarily whether Elke had tired of our services. You see, we were collecting Newfoundland cranberries today, and cranberries only grow in remote, hard-to-reach locations.

“They only grow along the cliffs where it’s wet,” she explained as she descended a narrow, muddy trail that led down the side of the coastline.

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Just the descent was treacherous. There are no trees or shrubs to cling to, so you’re left with grasping any nearby grasses and praying they’re well anchored. As with all the foraging exploits we’ve been on so far, I began this one full of doubt but reliant on Elke, whose experience in all things foraging surpasses my craziest notions.

“They grow underneath, so you have to uncover them,” Elke told us.

Halfway down the trail, Elke pointed.

“Here,” she directed me. “Here are some berries. You see them?” And with that, she wandered off to another part of the coastline, leaving me to my own devices. I leaned tentatively to where she pointed. Seeing the berries, I suddenly realized I had tufts of long grass clasped firmly in one hand and a large plastic container tucked under my other arm. Picking cranberries with both hands occupied and my body clinging precariously to a nearly vertical descent was the next mystery I had to untangle. However, I knew that cranberries are one of my very favourite fruits, and I’m a pretty determined gal.

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How others manage this feat, I don’t know. Thomas got the hang of it before I did, but for  me it meant setting the plastic tub down in a rocky nook nearby, planting both feet against solid rock and keeping my centre of gravity low.

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The first five minutes were apprehensive, but I overcame that quickly when I realized how plentiful, how tart, and just how magical these cranberries were. They looked exactly like the cranberries I’ve been buying in plastic bags at the supermarket all these years!

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“We look like typical Newfoundlanders,” Elke commented on the way home. “Almost everyone around here goes out with a container on the weekend and collects berries,” she mused. With that comment my foraging heart felt terribly at home, even though the adventure involved a little of the old “risking life and limb” to accomplish our ends. We’d walked two minutes from the farm house, descended the magnificent but incredibly unforgiving cliff face, and foraged a most welcome Thanksgiving treat.

ah, Cranberry and Orange Loaf!
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
chopped walnuts
1 egg
grated orange rind
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup oil
1 cup cranberries
Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients separately, then add to dry ingredients.
Bake 45 – 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

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