Debbie Arrington

A juicy slice of summer memories

Summer of 2016: This Aussie heirloom tomato weighed in at 1 pound 1 ounce.
Summer of 2016: This Aussie heirloom tomato weighed in at 1 pound 1 ounce.

It’s a melancholy meal, that last BLT of summer.

We remember the anticipation as our tomatoes ripened and we watched for weeks as they reddened on the vine. We gardened and gobbled Sun Golds and Sweet Millions right off the bush, but it’s the big slicers that make our mouths water. For those, we had to wait. And wait.

When those king-size heirlooms finally were ready to come in, we savored those sandwiches – plus salads, salsas, sauces and so much more. We peeled, canned and froze any extra tomatoes to make sure we would have some for later, too.

Then came September and our supply of ripe tomatoes dwindled to a precious few. That starts the countdown to that final fresh-picked, garden-grown BLT.

That’s a familiar feeling for any Sacramento gardener who knows and values the taste of a homegrown tomato. In other words, just about everybody.

Maybe we’ll still have fresh tomatoes for Thanksgiving. I know in my own garden, the vines are still setting fruit, making up for a slow start.

As harvest wraps up, we also evaluate our crop. How will we remember the summer of 2016? What was a boom or a bust?

My garden’s most consistent performers: Lemon Boy, Big Boy, Cherokee Carbon and Juliet. They’ll all be back next year.

Yaqui, a large paste tomato, produced a surprising bounty on a compact determinate bush that was the first to die off in August. Blush, a yellow- and red-striped elongated cherry, proved to be as tasty at it is eye-catching.

My prize was my lone Aussie: An impressive 1-pound, 1-ounce behemoth that measured 12 inches around. It took all summer to develop and was an only child on its large, luxurious 6-foot vine. But this heirloom tomato was solid beefsteak – and big enough for four.

Judging by photos shared by readers, patience paid off in their gardens, too. Although several reported lean years likely due to poor fruit set in June’s blazing heat, others enjoyed a bountiful backyard crop.

“So far, I have canned 27 quarts of stewed tomatoes, (and) with these should make it 35 quarts,” reported “Jim from South Natomas,” who sent in snapshots of his kitchen sink overflowing with ripe tomatoes. “I planted Early Girl, Big Beef, Ace and Celebrity. All doing well; it’s a big hothouse here in Sacramento. Love it!!”

Rinny Rau of Elk Grove needed a taller ladder. Grown on extra strong cages, vines of Ace, Early Girl and Sweet 100 all topped 10 feet tall.

Kiemberly DiCarlo of Auburn grew boxloads of jewel-toned heirlooms, an illustration of how much we gardeners love variety as well as just plain tomatoes.

Ron Debler of Sacramento planted eight varieties early – April 4 – and started picking in June. In August, rows of tomatoes still filled his kitchen counters.

Cheryl Nelson of Elk Grove also went big on colorful heirlooms.

“These are Rainbow, Cherokee Purple and Brandywine heirlooms,” she said of her late August harvest. “We also have a German Johnson that produced early, got halted by the heat, and is now starting up again. The Sun Gold cherry has been prolific.”

And how to use that crop? Nelson’s suggestion echoed many reader comments. “I’ve been making delicious salsa with the meaty Rainbows,” she said. “My favorite is a simple tomato sandwich on sliced sourdough with lots of mayo.”

A lot of us could go for one of those right now.

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

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