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Editorial: Let the last taste of your garden bounty linger


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The flavors of summer are fading. New Hampshire is about to enter what seems like an endless season of tasteless corn and cardboard tomatoes, so get the real thing if you can. The game is afoot.

Concord’s Dimond Hill Farm sold its last slicing tomato at 1:28 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9. The farm hasn’t kept livestock in years but we swear, as the treasured orb left the barn, the stuttering voice of Porky Pig could be heard saying “Th-th-th-that’s all folks.”

Researchers at the University of Florida and elsewhere are working to restore the tomato flavor lost during decades of breeding for fruits that look great, ship well and have a long supermarket shelf life. Lost in the process were the sugars, acids and other compounds that give heirloom tomatoes – think Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine – their aroma and superb taste. Regaining what’s been lost is a slow process. It will be some years before tasty tomatoes can be enjoyed everywhere out of season. But green tomatoes picked before frost can be kept indoors on a few layers of newspaper. They’ll ripen in a few weeks, if not turned into fried green tomatoes.

Though the Old Farmers Almanac lists Sept. 28 as the average first frost date for Concord, flowers are still blooming and tomato plants untouched. The average first frost, according to data compiled by NOA since 1895, comes a week later than it did a generation ago. The growing season today is about two weeks longer, though whether that’s a good thing is debatable.

Clouds of purple asters decorate meadows, waste areas and roadsides. Above them rise flame red staghorn sumac trees, their conical seed heads a deep burgundy. The cones, when bruised and soaked in cold water make, after straining, a tart and tasty sumac-ade, rich in Vitamin C. The robins that now stay year-round are feasting on crab apples. The geese have yet to pass overhead.

A stray monarch or two still flit among the asters in the cutting garden. So do the omnipresent white cabbage moths, the males with one black spot on each wing, the females with two. When two meets one, the pair circle and swirl toward the treetops as if caught in a dust devil. Beautiful to watch, not so beautiful are the cabbage and broccoli leaves gnawed by the green and yellow caterpillars their mating produces.

For health and long life, assorted diets advise, eat like our ancestors did a century ago, but the great-grandparents of today’s New Englanders, unless they had the time and space to fill root cellars with canning jars and pickling crocks, ate a diet that ran heavy to meat and root vegetables. Today, most produce is available year-round, a miracle that almost makes up for what’s lost in the taste and texture of fresh-picked local fare. It’s still out there, but won’t be for long.

The leaves have begun to fall despite this week’s summer temperatures. They will wait to descend en masse, however, until one day after the city’s fall leaf pickup trucks sweep through your neighborhood. There are those who look forward to the first frost, to sweeten apples and brussel sprouts. But who will dine on the final vine-ripened tomato of 2018 or the last ear of fresh-picked sweet corn? It’s a goal worthy of pursuit.