Bountiful - FamilyEducation

Bountiful

August 21,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

The other day T. and I drove through our old neighborhood, past the turn-off to the street our old house used to be on. I felt a tug of nostalgia suddenly, but I'm not sure what for, really. I don't miss the house--I love this house and this new neighborhood, and the friends we've made in the nearly two years we've lived here--but the tug was there, nonetheless, like a homing instinct pulling me down the street.

I've also been thinking lately about the garden I used to have. My dad and I built it when L. was barely two. We worked hard laying the cinder blocks and making them level, and then we filled the inside of the raised bed with thick, black dirt. The tomatoes I grew that summer were some of the best we've ever had. And we had mounds of green beans, and my little L. use to pluck them from the stalks and crunch them down, his cheeks so puffed out with seriousness as he bent over the stalks. I love our house, but I'll always be sad that I can't seem to find a spot for a garden in our heavily wooded backyard, and our equally heavily wooded front yard. I grew a few leggy cherry tomato plants and got a harvest of maybe six little red tomatoes, and two of them I know were eaten by the brown rabbit who lives in our yard.

Yesterday morning I was reminded how much we appreciate the closeness we've developed with many of our neighbors. A kind neighbor who lives diagonally across from us stopped by and delivered us an armful of her own tomatoes. And because my colleague/friend also gave us poor homegrown-tomato-deprived people another pile of fresh tomatoes a few days ago, we found ourselves with a huge surplus of quickly ripening tomatoes. I meal-planned very diligently on the weekend and I was planning on making a honey-peanut tofu dish in the crock pot, but I couldn't resist making homemade tomato sauce with the fresh tomatoes instead. And if you find yourselves with a pile of late summer tomatoes in August, by all means turn them into sauce. It's messy to do, but so worth it in the end.

 I used five medium to large tomatoes and the sauce cooked down to make enough for Scott and me to have two large helpings (we were greedy), with some left over. Both kids refused the sauce, alas, but it could have easily stretched to feed the kids, as well. To make the sauce, first scald the tomatoes in hot water for a few minutes.Drain the scalded tomatoes and run cold water over them. Then peel off the skins and chop the tomatoes up into small pieces, along with 2-3 large garlic cloves. Put it all--precious juice and all--into a sauce pan, add a generous splash of red wine, some basil and/or oregano and lots of olive oil and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. Your house will smell heavenly and the sauce will be so delicious you'll be tempted to sit at the table all night, slurping spaghetti and wiping every last drop of sauce from your plate with a hunk of bread.

We used to eat fresh sauce all the time at our old house, especially at the end of the summer, when we didn't know what to do with all the tomatoes we had. I miss my tomatoes, and how much delight my kids took in the garden in the spring; I miss the days I spent building the raised bed with my dad, and the sight of two-year-old L. in his oversized rain boots tromping over the black dirt after we had shoveled it in. But even as I think about how much I miss those things, I know that one day I'll miss the new things we have here--the kids exclaiming over the first cherry tomato they picked (and fought over), eight-year-old L. standing ankle-deep in our creek, mining for gold, T. on the tire swing, and the sight of our kind neighbor, her arms filled with ripe tomatoes, standing at our front door. I think that if we spend too much time looking back, we sometimes don't realize the gifts we have right in front of us.