I think it’s safe to say that the summer of 2015 will live in our memories for a very long time. For awhile now, I’ve been thinking of it as “the summer of too much.”
Too much heat, too much lack of rain, too many presidential candidates spouting too much babble, too much brown lawn everywhere, too much time spent waiting in ever-longer ferry lines, and far, far too much of our state on fire.
It is possible, it seems, to have too much of a good thing. How many summers have you experienced in the past when you watched the rain coming down in August, and wished out loud “come on, just a few sunny days?” And how often did you find yourself living in sweaters and sweatshirts in June and July and longing for the summer heat to arrive? But here we are now, with Labor Day past and the summer of 2015 nearing its end, and it rained all weekend.
With the fires in Eastern Washington, it’s doubtful many breathed one word of complaint as the long overdue drops began to fall on our parched lands.
It’s not just the weather, or oddity thereof, that is making this summer so unusual, however. It’s also what is happening in our yards and gardens, or in some cases, not happening. Almost everyone I’ve talked to who plants a garden space, large or small, is commenting on how early they began picking their ripe tomatoes, artichokes, cucumbers, zucchini, and how quickly their lettuces and chards bolted and had to be re-seeded.
Apples and pears have been falling to the ground weeks ahead of their usual schedule (which the deer love, thank you very much), and many of us have been living with brown, tinder-dry lawns since sometime back in June. To water or not to water, that has been the primary question, and if you watered your vegetable garden (but not your lawn) I was in.
Too much of too many good things.
With a countertop covered with freshly picked tomatoes and zucchini, I shouldn’t complain about “too much,” but as I said, there can be too much of a good thing. I’ve dug out my fat zucchini recipe file, along with every fresh tomato recipe I can get my hands on, including a tomato pie recipe sent to me by my uncle, whose garden and the tomato pie recipe are legendary in his area. If you, too, are suffering the pangs of “too much,” perhaps these can help.
FRESH TOMATO PIE
1 nine inch deep dish pie crust (purchased or homemade)
4 large ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled and sliced
½ cup chopped fresh basil
3 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
½ lb. bacon, cooked, drained and chopped
½ t. garlic powder
1 t. dried oregano, or 2 t. chopped fresh oregano
½ t. crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (I use sharp cheddar, or sometimes Gorgonzola for a change)
¼ cup mayonnaise
1. In alternating layers, fill the pie crust with sliced tomatoes, basil, scallions, bacon, garlic powder, oregano and red pepper.
2. In a small bowl, mix cheese with mayonnaise; spread mixture evenly over the top of the pie. Cover loosely with foil and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 min., then remove foil and bake an additional 30 minutes. Serve warm or cold. Serves 6-8.
Because I have a beautiful stand of rhubarb right now, as well as the usual “too much” zucchini, I’m baking up a batch of zucchini rhubarb bread, which is a treat to hand a neighbor or two, perhaps, but it also freezes well to pull out in the fall when the zucchini plants are a thing of the past.
RHUBARB ZUCCHINI BREAD
2 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
2 t. orange juice
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup salad oil
2 t. vanilla
2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
3 cups flour
1 ½ t. cinnamon
¾ t. nutmeg
½ t. salt
2 t. baking soda
½ t. baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts
1. In a saucepan, combine rhubarb, orange juice and 2 T. of the sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until rhubarb is tender (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool.
2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until blended. Add oil, remaining sugar and vanilla; beat until thick and foamy. Drain rhubarb and add to the bowl along with the zucchini; mix well.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, spices, salt, soda and baking powder; add nuts and mix. Stir this into the batter, stirring just until well moistened throughout. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 5×9 loaf pans (or into four small loaf pans); bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until a tester comes out clean (about 45 minutes) Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on rack.
COOL TOMATO CUCUMBER SALAD
½ cup white vinegar
1 T. sugar
2 t. salt
1 t. dry mustard
½ t. celery salt
¼ t. red pepper flakes
1/8 t. pepper
2 lbs. fresh ripe tomatoes, cored, cut into ½-inch thick wedges
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin matchsticks
1 red onion, halved and sliced thin
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard, celery salt, pepper flakes and pepper. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper and onion; toss to combine. Refrigerate salad for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours.
It is much better if served very cold. Serves 6-8.