Apples, Blackberries and Tomatoes, Oh My!

Its been a little more than three weeks since my last garden update and boy does a little fertilizer and new soil go a long way!  The tomato plants have tripled in size and the leaves are a perky rich green.  They’re even growing new little tomatoes!  Our cherry tomatoes have been ripening for a couple of weeks and we are eating them by the handful.  I have been particularly enjoying the first crop of larger heirlooms. The Italian ones not picture perfect.  There were a few cracks across the top, but they smell warm and sweet.  I’ve had one on a ham sandwich almost every day.  My favorite preparation so far however, is sliced with a sprinkle of sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  I’ve noticed that heirloom tomatoes have far fewer seeds than store-bought varieties.  Without seeds the heirlooms have more room to grow that thick creamy interior and are definitely sweeter and more fulfilling than their store bought cousins.

Our blackberries seem to change from firm green to red to plump sweet black almost overnight.  We have been harvesting about a pint every other day until last night when Tom and I picked almost two pints.  Blackberry picking is dangerous business.  It involves carefully placed footsteps in between dozens of razor sharp thorny vines.  Balance is important too, not that I have any with this belly of mine.  Being 5 feet tall I have to reach and lean into the bushes to pick the berries that are ripe. I quickly learned a skirt might be great for pregnancy, but it is not appropriate blackberry picking garb.  Neither is any sort of loose shirt.  The thorns reach out and grab you like some sort of enchanted monster bush from Harry Potter.  And those scratches itch!  Still we check the bushes every day to pick, and usually eat, everything we can find.  I haven’t made a thing with my blackberries yet. We eat most of the sweeter plump ones before rinsing and freezing the rest for winter.

My favorite part of the day is just after the sun ducks behind a stand of eucalyptus trees about 1/4 mile away.  It’s not quite dusk but it feels close.  The air cools and the ever present wind slows to a light breeze.  Tom and I stroll through the orchard with the dog picking apples off the trees and taking test bites.  Have you ever tasted an unripe apple?  It has a bitter tang to it.  Your lips will pucker like you bit into a lemon and a strange fuzziness will spread across your tongue and lips like the outside of a kiwi.  After weeks of bitter apples it was a shock to bite into a perfectly ripe crisp apple.  My first Gravenstein.  I wasn’t even hungry and I ate the whole thing.  We filled our shirts with apples from that tree and left all the others with the hope that my sweet apple wasn’t a fluke and this tree just ripened first.

It wasn’t.

A few days later I noticed the whole town was up a ladder picking their prize Gravenstein Apples.  So Tom and I promptly went out and picked at least 10 lbs from our orchard.

The next day I sat in front of the TV watching Big Brother with my daughter painstakingly pealing 20 apples and dropping each one into a bowl of lemon juice and water.  After the show was over I sliced around the cores and threw them into my favorite Le Creuset Dutch Oven that I found in almost perfect condition at a garage sale in Santa Cruz for $3.00.  The heat was turned to high and I was waiting for a boil.

Then Brae called me over to help her with a game.  No more than 5 minutes passed when I remembered


What a mess!  My pot is black on the bottom.  I am still soaking in baking soda and vinegar and scrubbing, over and over to clean it.  The apples, of course, are ruined.

I haven’t looked at the last 6 lbs of apples since then.  I’m going to have to tackle them soon though.  They aren’t going to last forever and I have been craving that apple butter I made last year.  Funny, last years apples came with grief too.  Brae is still worried about those bees, even though they are long gone.