Usually, by this time, it’s the zucchini that have exhausted our creative powers at the Shack. This year, cukes are the contenders. I’m trying to think pickles.
Tracy is out in the garden early, well before I’ve shaken off a night in the restaurant kitchen. Later, she stops by with all kinds of proof that I’m sleeping through some of the best hours of summer.
Listening to Tracy is a real midsummer inspiration. Not just for gardeners but for cooks, too.
“We’ve been getting enough zucchini,” she says, “but it’s not the kind of harvest that my mother-in-law used to talk about. Some years, she would sneak extra zucchini into the back seats of other people’s cars. We’ve got plenty of yellow squash and patty pans, though, and there’s a great harvest of swiss chard and beets.”
I ask her how the beans are holding up. “It’s been a few good weeks, hasn’t it? First it was the yellow wax bush beans and then the purple and white Dragon beans. Yes, there’ll be more. Now we are getting lots of great Kentucky Wonder pole beans.
“I do think we’re getting to the end of our cherry tomatoes, Mac,” she says. “You know, they’ve been coming in steady for weeks, but I just did a massive harvest. But now we are getting tons of the medium-sized Red Calabash, that organic variety from Mexico. And the first of the Zapotecas are beginning to ripen. That’s the other rare Mexican variety we’ve got, the one that has been grown by the people of Chiapas since the late 1700s. And get ready for the bright yellow Peach tomatoes: they’re beginning now, too.
She’s on a roll. “The garden is really a jungle right now. The nasturtiums are incredible and the shisho, that Japanese herb that Ichi uses in the sushi, is beautiful. Oh, and there are pumpkins ripening on the vines, too, lots of them. So much to harvest, so little time.”
“What are you and Swede cooking lately?” I try to make this question sound innocent. Though I’m pretty sure Tracy doesn’t mind if some of her ideas end up on our plates.
“Don’t you love how easy dinners are this time of the season?” She isn’t really asking. She’s got dinners to describe: “We’ve been eating cold Asian bean salads and patty pan squash on the grill, topped with some of the gallons of pesto made with nasturtiums and basil.
“And of course fresh cucumber and tomato salads every night. Tonight we had one alongside a few huge and beautiful scallops we’d seared on the grill. Last night it was tomatoes and cukes next to steak from New England Family Farms: just perfect!
“Then the other night I made fake pasta––noodles from zucchini––tossed in pesto. We had that with the first artichoke I have ever grown.”
That fake pasta idea reminds me of last year’s squash glut. I wish we had all that zucchini to work with now. Meanwhile, Tracy’s garden update moves on to “late season challenges,” like tomato wilt and squash vine borers.
Late season challenges. As I sort through a collection of them in my head, I hear Tracy say: “But tonight’s dinner still dances on my tongue, so I’ll worry about that tomorrow.”