I love tomatoes, but I truly believe a tomato has to be freshly picked to be worth eating. In the winter and spring I might buy a tomato or two from the supermarket but only if they are going to be put into a stew or soup. They’re just not good enough to eat raw or lightly cooked.

I believe in the pleasure of anticipation. I’ll wait ten months in order to really enjoy a fresh, warm, local tomato. I believe we’ve lost a lot when we’ve given up the pleasure of anticipation. In the world today we want what we want when we want it and that when is usually now. But you can’t grow a tomato in November in the north and you can’t pick it fresh from the vine in January. You have to wait.

And wait I will do.

When I moved to the country two years ago, one of my requirements for my new home was a nice space to plant a vegetable garden. Mostly for tomatoes. Is there anything in the world more perfect than eating a cherry tomato straight from the vine?

Vicki Delany's tomatoesThe first picture above shows the product of my garden last year. Look at those tomatoes. Look at the variety of sizes, colours, types. I spent August and September eating tomatoes, cooking with tomatoes, freezing tomatoes, making tomato sauce and tomato soup to last me over the long winter. And in the depths of winter, when the snow was piled to the windows, I ate tomato soup or pasta with my tomato sauce and remembered my lovely garden.

The second picture shows my tomato plants this year.

It would be an understatement so say they are disappointing. The plants are thin and anaemic and each has one (or less) tiny little tomato dripping off the end of a drooping branch. The beefsteak tomatoes are the size of a good cherry tomato and the cherries are about the size of the end of my finger. I will say, however, that they are very, very tasty. They taste perfectly normal, it’s just that they’re so small and so few!

Why the tomato disaster? I have no idea. I also planted two heirloom tomatoes in the herb bed closer to the house and they are threatening to take over the deck (not to mention the herbs). The plants are huge, and the still-growing tomatoes are abundant, fat, and healthy.

Notably I added manure to the tomato bed in the fall, turned it over in the spring and mulched it, watered it regularly, occasionally with Miracle Grow. The little bed near the house? 2010 Tomatoes, Vicki DelanyDug a hole in the ground and stuck two tomato seedlings in and told them to have at it.

The ‘regular’ tomato seedlings were bought at a garden store. The heirlooms were bought at Vicki’s Veggies (http://vickisveggies.com/Home.html) in Prince Edward County. Nothing to do with me, but they grow about a gazillion types of heirloom tomatoes. Lots of other wonderful fresh stuff too.

Fortunately the failure of most of my tomato crop isn’t the end of tomatoes for me this year. I have the great fortune of living in Prince Edward County, Ontario, one of the best agricultural areas in Canada. All I have to do is walk up the road to a farm gate stand or stop in at another one on the way into town and I can buy tomatoes they grew themselves. Not quite as good as eating the ones you’ve grown, but the next best thing.

Now that I’ve got you licking your lips and anticipating a dash to the farm stall or farmers’ market or your own back yard for tomatoes, here are a couple of recipes. I probably have this pasta dish about half of my suppers in tomato season. The sauce goes in the freezer.

Vicki Delany’s Cherry Tomato Linguine

(Mix up the quantities depending on taste and number of people being served.)

  • One Green onion
  • One clove garlic
  • Copious amount of fresh cherry tomatoes. If they are large, slice in half.
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • ¼ to ½ Log of goat’s cheese.
  • ½ cup white wine (already open for sipping while cooking, I am sure)
  • 1 – 2 cups of arugula, roughly chopped.

The sauce cooks very quickly so have the linguini started before beginning.

  • Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add sliced green onion and chopped garlic. Cook on medium until soft and golden in colour. Add tomatoes and cook for three or four minutes, stirring. Tomatoes will go soft and wrinkly.
  • Add basil and arugula and cook stirring until arugula begins to shrink.
  • Add goat’s cheese and stir until melted.
  • Add enough wine to loosen the sauce (about ½ a cup). If you don’t have, or don’t want to use, wine use pasta liquid.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toss sauce with pasta.
  • Eat.

Vicki’s Tomato Sauce

  • About 10 large tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Large handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Skin the tomatoes: I dip them into a large pot of boiling water and cook for about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and leave to cool. The skins will then slip off easily. Core and chop roughly, removing tomato seeds where possible. (Don’t worry if some get in, but remove the ones you can easily).

Heat oil in large pot

Add garlic and onion and cook gently for 5 minutes until pale gold

Add chopped tomatoes and chopped or torn basil

Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Simmer on low heat, without a lid, for approx 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally.

Remove from heat and let cool.

You can now use the sauce as is or puree in a blender to make a smoother consistency.

Freeze in meal-sized containers.

If you have any idea of what might have happened to my crop this year, please leave a comment. Also, do you have a favourite way of using tomatoes? I’d love to hear it.Winter of Secrets by Vicki Delany

Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Scare the Light Away, Burden of Memory) to a traditional village/police procedural series set in the mountains of British Columbia (In the Shadow of the Glacier), to a light-hearted historical series (Gold Fever) set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush.  Winter of Secrets, the third in the Constable Molly Smith series published by Poisoned Pen Press, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Vicki was lucky enough to be able to take early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world and now lives the simple writer’s life in bucolic rural Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she writes books, grows vegetables, and rarely wears a watch.  Negative Image, the fourth book in the Constable Molly Smith series, will be released Nov. 1, 2010.  Visit www.vickidelany.com, Facebook at Vicki Delany, and Twitter @vickidelany.