In early August, my tomato vines were heavy-laden with green tomatoes. A future bumper crop I was sure.
I was all set. Recipes assembled. Ingredients on hand. Canning equipment out of storage, washed and ready.
But a cooler than usual August and September kept all of those tomatoes green right up until the first frost was forecast.
It seemed there was only green salsa verde in my future.
But then I decided to try something. A little plastic tomato hut. Because I had the plastic on hand, and I’m just that kind of stubborn. And because I just couldn’t stand a tomato-less summer.
So I laid down two sheets of plastic, one vertical and one horizontal, to make my tomato hut double-walled. The tomato cages held the plastic up, while heavy sacks and stones kept the plastic from blowing away during construction.
Once everything was in place, I covered every exposed edge of plastic with 4 to 6 inches of soil taken from a bed I’ll be renovating next year.
Of course, being a last-ditch effort, I was doubting myself the whole time I was building this contraption.
My husband, raised in Minot, came home in the middle of this. I could tell what he was thinking in one glance. Nobody else is outside building a plastic hut for their tomatoes.
To his credit, he helped me anyway.
Each day after work I would pass by this little, lonely hut and bend down to peer inside, but the thick, milky plastic revealed only ghosts. Green ghosts at that. Nothing was turning red. Nothing at all.
Eight to nine days later, the weather prognosticators said a hard freeze was on the way. I peered into the hut one last time on the last cheery Sunday before the “big” storm. Everything I could see was still green.
Resigned to a salsa verde future, I carefully unpacked the hut late the next afternoon after work. I shook my head as I worked. None of my neighbors had put up a plastic tomato hut. I was such a nut.
Finally, I was in. The peppers, I noticed, had all turned red. Mocking me with what I wasn’t getting. Red tomatoes.
Green beans had also taken off inside the hut. A whole new pot of them. Delicious for Sunday supper with deer sausages and potatoes.
There was even a baby eggplant that I will swear hadn’t been there before.
Well, I’ll take it, and that third cutting of basil, too.
I started pulling green tomatoes off the vine and tossing them into a bucket, working quickly from the outside in. Suddenly, however, one of the tomatoes I pulled out wasn’t green. No not at all. It was red. Red, ripe and juicy.
I held it up to be sure, then peered into the center of the tomato cage. Hanging inside like jewels, six, seven, eight lovely red tomatoes, and seven or eight more with a little pink blush!
It was the same drill at each of the other two tomato cages. Green tomatoes outside, red tomatoes in. The pattern was clear. The outside edges had been touching the plastic, I realized. They just got too cold.
All in all, there were at least a dozen ripe tomatoes, plus a dozen more that could ripen inside. It’s just enough to pull off a batch of my husband’s favorite salsa, (with maybe a can or two of store-bought whole tomatoes).
The recipe my husband likes is from Ball canning. It marries 2 cups of corn with 5 pounds of cherry tomatoes. I found it online last year while searching for something to do with cherry tomatoes that had exceeded my appetite for salads.
While many feel that seeds ruin cherry tomatoes for salsa, they bring glutamate to the mix, which a little umami bomb in your mouth. My husband liked the recipe so well, he devoured five jars in less than a month, then chastised me for not having made more.
To find the recipe just search for Ball cherry tomato corn salsa.
Ball has a number of salsa recipes that can help extend small batches of tomatoes into a larger batch of something delicious. There’s plum-haberno salsa, for example, which combines 2 pounds of tomatoes with 3 pounds of plums. There’s also tomatoes and peaches, and tomatoes and tomatillos.
And there’s a lovely salsa verde with green tomatoes, which is what I’ll soon be making.
I’m happy with how the hut turned out after all. But I can’t help but think if I had put the plastic hut on just a little bit sooner, I’d have had all the red tomatoes I needed to make more than six jars of that delicious tomato-corn salsa. Not to mention, indulging my curiosity about that plum-habanero salsa.
You can bet I’ll be giving the concept of season extension a much more serious — and earlier look — than I did this year. Even if it makes neighbors shake their heads and think I’m a little bit weird.
Tomatoes are worth a little bit of weird. They just are.