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Pay it forward with bumper crops of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini

News Source: Delaware County Daily Times

TUESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2013

Finally….I can get my annual summertime fix of corn and tomatoes. Local gardens are overflowing right now with  the best tomatoes of the year weighing down backyard plants.

It’s funny how many ways we can think up to use those tomatoes, from just slicing them up with a sprinkle of salt and pepper or tossing  them in salads to putting them on bread with mayo or topping our pizzas. Tomatoes straight from the vine in our gardens (and of course, Jersey tomatoes, too) are one of the most versatile- and most looked forward to- foods around this neck of the woods. Often in August or early September, when the crop comes in the heaviest, I transform into Mama DeGrassa and get busy making homemade spaghetti sauce.  It’s a lot of work, but freezes well, and makes my family and me happy that I went through the trouble, when I’m able to conveniently pop some homemade gravy out of my freezer during the long winter months.

I also de-seed my peppers , wash them and cut them into strips to freeze and toss into future recipes. With lemons and limes, I squeeze their juices into ice cube trays to use later. I dehydrate fresh spices with my dehydrator and place in airtight jars. I wash and cut excess ripe fruit to put in freezer bags to use for smoothies and other recipes down the line. In years past, I’ve made jelly, salsa, relish and pickles. Making use of summer’s harvest requires lots of hard work, but pays off in dividends  when summer is long over.

With the internet and social media sites like Pinterest, it’s easier than ever before to look up new recipes to use garden vegetables to keep things interesting, yet fresh on the table. Although, the time for this surplus is so short-lived, it is difficult to believe we could actually get bored or tired by too many cucumbers, beans or  squash. To be honest, I am not the gardener in my household. My husband has always been. I remember when my son-in-law, a Montana native, first discovered how many guys around here are gardeners. He thought that was the funniest thing ever because in his home state, unless you are a farmer, few guys garden, he said. He got a major kick out of big macho guys comparing the varieties of tomatoes or lettuce  they preferred to plant or how large their radishes and eggplants grew. I was surprised by his sexist view- I just assumed guys  everywhere liked to plant backyard gardens, because my father, my grandfather and most of the men around me have all been avid gardeners and proud of it. In my world, “real” men do garden and thankfully, males and females always had equal opportunity to cultivate Mother Earth.

We’ve all heard the jokes about trying to give away the zucchini in our gardens. But let’s face it, when bumper crops come in, it’s a joy, not a joke, to be able to share the food with others. Who doesn’t appreciate when a friend, extended family member or neighbor offers us a little bag of bell peppers or fistful of beets? This summer, there are plenty of places around Delaware County and beyond to share the harvest and help our neighbors in need.

The idea of donating garden harvests to the hungry in our own community isn’t a new concept. According to the Garden Writers Association, more than 14 million pounds of vegetables and herbs have been donated by U.S. gardeners to the hungry since 1995. But it’s such a good concept, that it never hurts to mention it as a reminder to gardeners right about this time.

Locals can drop off extra produce from their gardens at Linvilla Orchards in Middletown.  Philabundance made Linvilla the official  Delaware County drop-off point for local gardeners’ surplus of fruits and vegetables. If that is not convenient, I am sure any senior center would be happy to get your extra fruits, herbs  and vegetables to distribute to members whose budgets are over-stretched and limited.

Or else, gardeners can share their surplus with local interfaith food banks like City Team Ministries in Chester, St. Mark’s UM Church in Broomall, Loaves and Fishes in Prospect Park, Church of the Nazarene in Collingdale, the Upper Darby Food Center, the Media Food Center at the First UM Church of Media, Christ Tabernacle Food Center in Morton, Mt. Zion CME Church in Sharon Hill, the Bernadine Center in Chester or any other nearby place that offers food to those in need. The list is long and I am sure if you contact your own church, the priest, minister or rabbi there can direct you to a donation center. I can almost guarantee that every one of these places would be thrilled to get fresh produce to distribute, along with the usual cans, boxes and pre-packaged foods.  And what a joy it is to share what comes in abundance to us!

When you read stories or see photos of people living in urban areas who yearn to grow their own fresh veggies so badly that they travel to community gardens or make window boxes to tend,  it is easy to see how lucky you are if you have the backyard space to put in a little (or big) garden. Summer and the prime growing season are almost over. Relish what time  is left and remember to share the harvest. If you are blessed with a bumper crop, remember your grandparents, neighbors, co-workers, and community food bank. After sharing, you will be unsure who benefited more- those who received part of your nice, fresh bounty to enjoy at their dinner table or you from the blessings and good feelings you will get from being so kind and generous (and never having to laugh at one of those zucchini jokes again)!

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