Mike D’s out Back and He’s Growing Onions

We could smell the garlic from the car as we turned off Highway 101 and onto the instantly more rural stretch of Highway 25.

Although I’d only been back in SF a week, I jumped at the chance to visit Mariquita Farm’s field in Hollister to take part in their tomato u-pick. Mariquita stopped coming to the Saturday farmers market this year — a serious blow to those of us who loved their produce — and their u-pick offered a rare chance to see their farm and get great deal on their produce ($0.50/lb for tomatoes).

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Is there a happier place to be than in a field of tomato plants in September, knowing that in a few months this seasonal crop will be gone? And, is there a better place to welcome Fall than standing in a pumpkin patch? At Mariquita, there was both, only a wide dirt path separating the two, and we could transition from Summer to Fall simply by walking through the farm.

Being at the farm made me feel like a kid again, like the world was a rich, growing, vibrant place and I was lucky to be in it.

Considering the price of most heirloom tomatoes, I felt a little like John Sutter must have felt when he discovered gold in California, standing there surrounded by vines of heirloom tomatoes. There were tomatoes as far as you could see — red, orange, and green zebra heirlooms — some so large and heavy that they’d dropped right off the vine and begun to rot in the soil.

I started tearing huge, orange tomatoes off their vines, as if the u-pick was a competition that I would win if I picked the biggest, the ripest and the most tomatoes from the field, before Mr. WholeHog reminded me of the real challenge ahead of us: we had to eat everything we picked. It was a sobering thought, but it didn’t slow us down much.

Heirlooms had to be eaten soon, but San Marzanos could be turned into tomato sauce and enjoyed through the winter. And the San Marzano field held more potential sauce than we could imagine. It was thick with tomatoes, and we filled our shirts with them, depositing them in our basket and committing the rest of our weekend to making sauce for the winter.

The final haul was 25 pounds of tomatoes (for $12.50).

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At home, we set up a mini-assembly line, blanching the tomatoes, cooling them in ice water and then pulling the peels off.

By the time we cooked the tomatoes down, we had 5 pints of sauce which is probably headed to the freezer. I say probably because we had pasta Sunday night, with Fatted Calf sausage and a cup or so of the fresh tomato sauce. It was so delicious that I feel like having it again for dinner tonight. I’m afraid that our winter supply tomato sauce may not last into October.

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