About midway through the summer, I come to the realization that I have pretty much failed in my intent to volunteer more often at Restoration Farm. There are any number of issues that tend to dissuade me, and if I shared them, you’d roll your eyes. You might even accuse me of being a “fair weather farmer.” A valid accusation, I agree. But, the upcoming Saturday forecast promises brilliant sunshine, a gentle breeze and no humidity. That means no excuses.
I arrive shortly after 8 a.m. and Leslie, one of the regular volunteers, takes me to the tomato field for harvesting. It is more like a six-foot-tall, green maze of thick vines, and volunteers are scattered throughout the corridors picking quarter-sized cherry tomatoes. My job is to gather the Sun Gold tomatoes.
Leslie is clear. “We only pick tomatoes that are orange.” The vines are covered with clusters of bite-sized tomatoes, shimmering in the morning dew. It’s not hard to identify those sun-kissed spheres.
There are hundreds to be picked. Here and there, we all snatch a bite. The tomatoes are impossibly sweet, like penny candy. This is what the sun must taste like. I pick one at a time, and you can feel the juice pressing against the taut skin as if the tomato is about to burst.
The only distraction to this otherwise bucolic experience is a pack of particularly aggressive flies that seem to be attacking all of our ankles. It becomes a process of pluck (tomato) and swat (fly). Perhaps the flies are a biting reminder of my poor track record as a volunteer. Yet at the same time, the spectacular colors of the tomato field dazzle. One wonders what Monet would have done with this scene.
I turn a corner of the maze of vines and encounter Head Grower Caroline’s grandfather George, whom I haven’t run into all summer. His skin is rich brown from a season in the sun, working the fields. He is picking with some urgency. So many tomatoes are ripening, and if they are not gathered soon, they will drop from the vine.
At the distribution tent, there are several quarts of cherry tomatoes for each member and flats overflowing with every color of heirloom tomatoes. It is a reminder that each season has its own character. Perhaps the berries were fleeting, but right now tomato amore is abundant.
I was one of many smitten with this recipe for Heirloom Tomato Pie when it appeared on the cover of Food Network Magazine in June.
I use the Sun Gold tomatoes as a sweet garnish to this pie of rich cheese filling and thin layers of brilliantly-colored tomatoes. A cornmeal pie crust and smoky manchego cheese surround the tomatoes with savory flavor.
It’s fancy and time consuming, and probably something I should have made for company, but it’s perhaps a little complicated to assemble when one is entertaining. Regardless of the occasion, with swirls of purple, gold, lime green and red and a sweet touch of Sun Gold, the pie is a fitting tribute to the bold legacy of heirloom color that graces our summer season.
©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved