salvaging the rewards of a hard-fought season

heirloom tomatoes

It was only a matter of time. Friends had warned me of these backyard bandits. For some strange reason I believed I would be immune to them. My secret garden would be impenetrable. There was no way they would make off with my shimmering emerald, citrine, and ruby jewels. And then one day it happened. The clusters of San Marzanos, just ripened Italian fruit, were gone. A few other plump, juicy heirlooms were freshly gouged — sweet tangy juice still dripping from open flesh. Yes, the critters had invaded, and they would be back for more.

I couldn’t believe it. After months of digging, preparing the soil, nuturing seed to seedling to overgrown jungle, and hours of watering, staking, and pruning. The raccoons and opposums had snuck in and pillaged my tomato village. It wasn’t bad enough that they would sit in my orange tree late at night and hollow out orange after orange, leaving empty rind shells behind on the lawn. They had to come after my prized summer fruit. I had encountered these intruders a handful of times before. Loud rustling in the bushes at ungodly hours (they were actually rummaging through the compost pile). Glowing eyes prowling the patio outside. I once had managed to thwart a single raccoon attack by desparately tossing whatever I could find at the masked bandit (which happened to be some pennies sitting on my nightstand). Though I had won that battle, I knew I wouldn’t win this war.

Short of enclosing everything in chicken wire, there would be no way I could keep them from enjoying the all-you-can-eat tomato smörgåsbord. My only saving grace, is that these animals are smart enough to only eat ripe fruit. Since indeterminate tomatoes flower throughout the season, staggering the maturation of the crop, I could possibly pick the ripe ones before the critters returned. I can only hope. The tomatoes above were picked this past weekend, and some of them were enjoyed sliced and dressed simply with sea salt, cracked pepper, and good olive oil, and topped with luscious milky slices of real buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil from the garden. Oh boy. Let’s just say the plate was cleared in an instant, with big silly grins on our faces.

I still have a few ideas for the remaining tomatoes, so stay tuned!