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Reap The Fruits Of Your Garden Labor

Tips on savoring every last bit of summer’s nectar


Hold on, eager gardener! Sure, days are shrinking, football season is under way, and the kids are all back in school, but let me remind you: Summer isn’t over just yet.

I understand. I, too, have collards, fall foliage and sweaters on the brain. However, once Summer is gone, and with her, tomatoes, , basil and straw hats, we’ll miss her. We always do. 

So, this Labor Day throw yourself and Summer, the dynamic gardening duo, a farewell party to remember. After all, from the looks of your rose-thorn-scarred arms, poison-ivy rash and grubby fingernails, you deserve it! 

Your tomato patch was stellar this year! It seems like only yesterday you were plastering the walls of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest with images of your first tomato to pass through the ripening finish line with the enthusiasm of a new parent. However, after preparing them one hundred different ways and gifting as many as you ate, you’re certainly approaching tomato fatigue (a condition suggested due to your tomato-scented perspiration). But don’t yank those vines out just yet. Here are a couple ways to utilize late-season tomatoes I’ve learned from a chef-friend, owner of Home.Made Catering, here, in Athens:

Make tomato water! Snip the remainder of your fully-ripened crop, roughly chop them, sprinkle with a dash of salt (it helps pull the moisture out) and let them sit for a bit. Then, strain the muck through a coffee filter and you’re left with pure summer goodness. 

Just what does one do with tomato water? Well, simply pour it over ice and sip summer away. Or, muddle a seeded jalapeno (no doubt, you’re still swimming in those) and a few basil leaves in the bottom of a shaker. Add ice and vodka. Shake and strain into a salted rimmed glass and call it “breakfast.” It’s a holiday, after all. 

Chances are, you very well may have loads of green tomatoes that will likely not come into ripening before you need their space for your beloved cool-weather veggies. I have three words for you: Green Tomato Pie. You read that right! Hands down, it’s the best pie I’ve ever eaten, and is even currently holding steady on my Top Ten Most Memorable Culinary Experiences list. Remember me when you make it. I have excellent taste-testing credentials. (See the photo gallery for the recipe.)

Right about now, you’re wondering why you planted more than one cucumber vine, right? You can hardly keep up! You’ve got pickles coming out of your ears, and have already gone through gallons of cucumber gazpacho. Well, what about cucumber/mint aqua fresca? It’s my favorite way to use large amounts cucumbers, and it puts a substantial dent in your mint supply, to boot!

Speaking of mint, do you like mojitos? Well, then, put a spin on the classic and make mojito popsicles! Or, for the more refined gardeners in the bunch, remove the stick, mash with a fork, and--Ta Da!--you’ve got mojito granita. Either way, you and the bees will be buzzing in perfect harmony. (See recipe in the photo gallery.)

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the kiddos. Use that last watermelon in the garden to whip up some kid-friendly popsicles of their own. And if you have adventurous children, add a bit of finely diced jalapeno or serrano pepper to the mix before freezing. They compliment each other better than you’d think. (Find the recipe here.)

I don’t know about you, but sage is the most underused herb in my garden. Therefore, I’m always on the search for ways to use this underdog. You know, to build its confidence. Let your sage know you love it by combining it with juicy plums and rye whiskey. (Get the recipe here.) But go easy on the “confidence building.” You don’t want it thinking it owns the place. 

! Oh, how delicious they were this summer. However, the fig tree’s harvest doesn’t fade with its fruit. Did you know you can make the most delicious tea from its leaves? Yep, it’s true. You can dry the leaves first, but I find using fresh leaves yields the most incredible flavor! (See the photo gallery for tips.) 

Now, I wouldn’t dare suggest that a gardener not work in the garden on a holiday. It’d be like asking an ant to resist a summer picnic. Just remember: Take some time to revel in your summer garden before it’s gone. Consider this transition time between seasons, a time for celebrating a summer garden well done. Before you know it, you’ll be knee-deep in brown, wishing you had. 

Happy Labor Day, Gardeners!

Meg Dure September 02, 2012 at 10:35 AM
Thanks Toni for this wonderful column full of tips and ideas. I loved it.
Toni Senory September 02, 2012 at 11:55 AM
Thanks, Meg! Hope you're enjoying your Labor Day weekend!
Toni Senory September 02, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Oh, and, not only are fig leaves aromatic and delicious, they boast many health benefits, like anti-diabetic and triglyceride-lowering properties, too! Read about it here: http://www.livestrong.com/article/267172-can-you-eat-fig-leaves/
LeEllen September 02, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Fantastic!
Pat Thomas September 03, 2012 at 04:35 AM
I LOVE mojitos. Your mojito popsicle idea is pure genius!
Becky September 03, 2012 at 02:18 PM
These days it is rare for me to read an article that is chock full of fantastic ideas that I haven't seen before, but this is one. Thanks for the inspiration!
Toni Senory September 03, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Why should the kiddos get all the fun, right?! Eat them quick, though. The rum makes it so that they don't completely freeze. That shouldn't be a problem, though, since they're so yummy!
Toni Senory September 03, 2012 at 03:26 PM
You're welcome! It sure pays to hang out with creative chef folks. I pick up a ton of great ideas just from listening to them banter. Happy Labor Day!
Toni Senory September 03, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Glad you enjoyed! Happy Labor Day!
Becky September 04, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Made the fig leaf tea today and it is surprisingly tasty! It made me think of flowery coconut, very Thai of Vietnamese in flavor.
Toni Senory September 04, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Exactly!

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