Monday, January 7, 2013

Twelfth Night Tomatoes

Every year it's the same thing and every year it's different. Maybe that's the real appeal of gardening. The regular annual cycles provide a way to hold on to the minutiae of daily life, the precious details that slip away unless they are gathered into patterns. Long after you've forgotten what happened last year, a similar milestone shows up and a whole sequence of years comes into sudden focus.

I think that's how it became a kind of ritual to celebrate the last of the tomatoes. And there's usually been a handy holiday to coincide with using up the final few jewels collected from withered vines hanging in the garage.

In 2011 we had tomatoes on Valentine's Day (and beyond); the year before we celebrated with New Year's tomatoes; before that we've had Christmas Eve tomatoes. Part of the ritual has been to see how long the season can stretch, so we've been pushing the celebration later and later. But this year New Year's came and went and I realized we weren't going to make it to Valentine's Day. Last summer wasn't such a great season for our backyard tomatoes and the supply overwintering in the garage was meager to begin with. By this weekend we were down to a handful of Sungolds.

No worries. There was a perfectly respectable holiday just sitting there waiting to be noticed. January 6: Twelfth Night! What does it matter if we have never observed the last of the twelve days of Christmas? It was a fine time for one more feast. Since we were over-feasted and over-feted from the previous twelve days, we settled for a brunch, strictly in-house.

There were enough Sungolds for scrambled eggs with fresh parsley and thyme from the backyard, blending two garden seasons in one festive dish.

B. produced a handsome loaf, so we had homemade whole grain bread.

We also had a King cake, or Rosca de Reyes ("kings' ring") because, well, you know -- Twelfth Night. The Magi arrive bearing gifts. Celebrated with a special cake. I went to a local Mexican market to buy one ready made but the ones for sale there were clearly intended for large extended families. They made me think of the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the groom's family -- two nervous Anglo parents bearing a small Bundt cake -- comes to meet the bride's family -- a crowd of uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, second cousins and two very jovial parents presiding over a large feast.

So I went to Trader Joe's and bought a teeny coffee cake, some cream cheese, and various fruits and nuts to decorate the top. I hid in the cake one of those foil covered chocolate coins, because that's what you do with a Twelfth Night cake, hide a token in it. We weren't exactly sure what it means if you get the piece with the token. In the British tradition it evidently means you are king or queen of the revels; in the Hispanic tradition it means you have to make the tamales for Candlemas on February 2. But it didn't matter because no one got the coin until much later when the leftovers disappeared and whoever got it is not openly admitting to it, perhaps concerned about making those tamales. It wasn't me, I know that much.

Anyway, it was a very fine brunch. We toasted the occasion with goblets of water, the wine of heaven. And the Twelfth Night tomatoes still had their homegrown savor.

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