By Marcia Pilgeram
Between COVID-19 and anticipating that my Chicago road trips would keep me away from home a lot this summer, I spent neither much time planning nor planting a garden. I am a fair-weather gardener and — other than my mother’s beloved rhubarb plant, some favorite herbs and a few token vegetables — I’ve always relied on my steadfast and talented landscaper, Jake, to give my yard some street cred (a.k.a. curb appeal).
If neighbors with bright green thumbs didn’t surround me, I might not be as conscientious about how things look, but it’s a lot of pressure to live amongst such beautiful yards tended by masterful horticulturists.
With my COVID-19 triggered income loss this year, I had to cut back on a few of my nonessential expenditures, and, sadly, lawn care was one of them, so I did my best to clean out my beds before I left for a month in Chicago. As soon as I returned, I masked up and headed to our hybrid Farmer’s Market in the public parking lot for my favorite tomato starts. It was one of my first outings and I can’t lie: It felt surreal to be sandwiched between healthy plants and health-wary humans.
I took my young plants home and, with visions of juicy, plump tomatoes dancing in my head, I lovingly planted each variety into my raised bed. Though I was planting them later than usual, it felt good to have something green to grow and look after, and it was an excellent motivation to be outdoors.
I was home for about six weeks before my second road trip to Chicago. Though my tomato plants weren’t dying, they weren’t exactly on track for any Bonner County Fair produce awards. Even so, before I left, I made sure they were carefully staked and would receive enough water from my automatic sprinklers.
I was pleased when I returned to see lots of promising young tomatoes. I pruned off extra blossoms that were destined to die anyhow and gave the plants some vegetable fertilizer to help them thrive. It worked, as these dear little tomatoes were just the right size for plucking by the dear little deer that rambled through my yard in the wee hours.
I carefully wrapped protective fencing around the remaining plants and hid the smallish-fruits into the green foliage as best I could. Then came the September winds of 2020 and my weak fencing effort was no match. I found a dozen or so of my wee-little tomatoes strewn about the bed.
Those left on the vines are not mature enough to pick and, undoubtedly, my next tomato challenge will be a match between more of Mother Nature’s wind and Frosty the Snowman. These tomatoes are so small that Marvin, our resident bull moose, doesn’t even bother to stop by for a snack (actually, my tomatoes are smaller than the walnut-sized lump I’m currently sporting on my foot, produced by an angry hornet which was sunbathing next to my inert tomatoes).
I’m rethinking next year’s gardening projects. Actually, I’m hoping that business picks up again and I can turn my yard and landscaping back over to Jake. It might be time to turn my tomato beds into a home for perennial flowers and leave the vegetables to one of our local produce farmers.
We are fortunate to have such outstanding local producers, like Mountain Cloud Farm, Red Wheelbarrow Produce and Pack River Farm. Each of them offers beautiful and affordable produce from May through October. They also offer a community supported agriculture (CSA) program (a season-long agreement between a farmer and a customer that will ensure the producer can make a living through the winter months and the consumer will receive a bounty of produce during the growing season). Each of the aforementioned farms offers a different program, and they are easy to find both on the web and at the Farmer’s Market.
On a recent Saturday, I masked up and headed down to the market and was happy to see so much support for all of our hard-working farmers. I was especially pleased to see The Corn Man, Jim Cadnum, and his committed Saturday companion, Bob, The Bag Man.
Keeping the prerequisite six-foot spacing, I lined up for my share of plump-looking ears, fretting that their ample yet dwindling supply would be gone before I made my way to the front of the line. I was able to buy a dozen ears and then headed to the next line over at Mountain Cloud Farm.
If you haven’t shopped at their stall, it’s worth the distanced line-up and waits. It’s my favorite stall for broccolini, cherry tomatoes and big bags of aromatic basil. Jim’s corn, combined with those cherry tomatoes and basil, are about all you need to whip up this delectable savory tart.
Perfect for brunch or lunch or as an appetizer. Serve with a garden salad and a chilled white wine. Don’t shave the corn off the cob until you’re ready to make.
• 1 pie crust recipe
• 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1/4 cup fresh finely chopped basil leaves (save some nice leaves for garnish)
• 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated (save a little to sprinkle over top before baking)
• 1/3 cup corn kernels, shaved from cob
• 1 finely chopped jalapeño
• 12-18 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, sprinkle cut side with 1 tsp salt and drain after 1/2 hour
• Maldon (or other flaked sea salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 F.
In a small bowl, mix together ricotta, egg, basil, olive oil and Parmesan.
Roll out crust and line in a tart pan with a removable bottom. Spread ricotta mixture evenly onto the crust. Sprinkle on corn and jalapeño, and press cherry tomato halves into the ricotta. Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes and black pepper and remaining Parmesan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cool slightly before lifting from pan and cutting into wedges. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
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