My backyard growing up bordered on Italy. Really... the courtyard in the back of my house was occupied by Italian immigrants. They all appeared to be old to me. The ladies in black dresses would spend their days playing pinochle outside when the weather was nice and tending to their gardens. Everyone grew tomatoes and everyone talked about tomatoes. Tomatoes are still my main topic of conversation with my mother and uncles in the summer. They are like children to Italians, the concern and attention tomatoes are given...
"How are they doing?"
"Not so good, it's been too dry."
"Well, water them more!"
"I don't want marks,... and the sun, not bright enough this summer."
This worrisome conversation continues until all the tomatoes in the garden are finally harvest.
I planted my first garden when I was seven. It consisted mostly of tomato plants. Mr Marcasie, who lived next door to me, taught me how to grow tomatoes the "old country" way.
|My grandmother and Mr Marcasie in my backyard. He always wore a jacket and tie.|
First you dig a hole for each plant and you put a few pieces of sardines in it, bones and all. Then you put the plant over the sardines and you cover up the roots with soil and make a mound around the base of each plant. I would also make a little trench around the mound, to help hold water. Tomatoes need water, but not too much, and lots of sunlight. When the plants got a little bigger and the weight of the tomatoes made them sag; I would stake each plant.
|My mother with my sister and I in our backyard. I am the smaller one with the white shirt. Note the sheets drying on the clothes line!|
If a green tomato fell off the plant I would take it inside and ripen it on the window sill and at the end of the season when the frost was about to come I would pick any tomatoes that were left on the plants and pickle them along with any eggplant we still had too. Tomato season is much shorter in Connecticut than it is in Southern Italy.
My mother primarily made marinara sauce with our garden tomatoes... jars and jars of sauce. But occasionally she would slice the tomatoes in half and sprinkle them with oregano, olive oil, parmesan and bread crumbs and then bake them. It was always so amazing to me that intensely flavored summer tomatoes would became even more flavorful when they were baked.
|Me on my father's lap with my sisters in the front of our house.|
This Tomatoes Provencal recipe is very similar to what I ate as a kid, minus the parmesan and breadcrumbs which is very Italian.
|My brother with our dog sitting on the picnic table in our backyard.|
In this recipe the tomatoes are halved, sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a mixture of fresh herbs. I baked them for 40 minutes at 400 degrees. We ate them with quiche, and they really were a wonderful side dish... much milder without the cheese, nothing to clash with your main course. Really a lovely way to enjoy the summer's bounty of fresh tomatoes.
Note: As a member of French Friday's with Dorie I am not allowed to print the recipe. I invite you to take a look at this wonderful cookbook "Around My French Table" if you are interested in this or any other recipe I review.