Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

Tomato Forest

It grew up like magic, in and around and all over the logs and stumps of two giant Stinkweed (Ailanthus) trees we cut down last year.

Back in the farthest corner of our place, way beyond the reach of our longest hose, a forest of tomatoes volunteered, almost daily serving us bowlfuls of succulent treats. At least four different kinds of petite beauties thrived back there: red and orange cherry, yellow pear, and the most abundant: low-acid miniature golden juice balls.

Nobody planted them. No neighbors’ vegetable beds were anywhere near there. And nobody watered those babies, ever, except Mama Nature – and that somewhat sparsely, in a semi-droughty year. They arose from The Great Mystery, spirit tomato sprouts wild and free!

I discovered them in late July, mowing a path back there. It was well into tomato season, and those vagabond plants produced more heavily every month. The last of them filled three big bowls on December first, gathered at sunset with a song of thanks before the year’s killing frost.

Harvesting called forth an agile courage. I was lured by a few arrayed along their knobby stems, atop that log pile. But to get to the wealth, the bloom, the hoard of tomato treasure, a person had to climb over logs and gingerly step through tangles of vines, trying to avoid stomping useful fruit and reaching way into deep crevasses of tomato productivity, where saucy ripening clusters dangled, daring a stretched hand to pull them all, six or eight at a time, off their looping vine and into a basket.

As fall went on, our tomato forest reminded me of the fairytale Forest of Thorns that twined and tangled up around Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Tomato plants climbed the neighbor’s chain-link fence and overtook a row of bushes. These were ergonomic picking spots: I could stand up to harvest. They also totally covered the ground, making picking impossible without sacrificing countless bites.

This edible invasion inspired a suitably magical dish: Tomato Eggs.

The crackers came first, discovered while sampling at an upscale cheese place. Thin as communion wafers, but bigger around, these crackers appeared too frail to support so much as a dollop of jam, but they were resilient. They were stamped with a spiral, and finished with a raggedy deckle edge: truly elegant cracker baking. No more than four inches long, a box of this brand cost four bucks. I chose the Rosemary Onion flavor.

Amazingly, one of these ephemeral crackers held up just fine for a smear of Triple Crème Brie. Velvety and almost liquid, no other cheese would do. Again, an investment, but one wedge went a long way.

I topped this delicate pairing with one-half a Tomato Forest orb, and served it all on a cobalt blue glass plate. Voila! A bevy of tiny tarts posing as sunny-side-up eggs.
Gorgeous, delectable, funny food! A huge hit at parties, fashioned (in small batches) from a great Green gift.

I’m watching the Ailanthus logs now. So far, in early June, no distinctively pungent Solanum lycopersicum leaves. But based on last year’s growing season, I patiently wait and hold out hope for Terra serendipita to redux.

I know at least a zillion seeds are on that phantom forest floor…

Jean Ponzi celebrates and explores Green perspectives in her weekly Earthworms conversations, podcasting from KDHX –St. Louis Independent Media. Pick ‘em up at podcasts.KDHX.org, or through iTunes.