Dried Yellow Tomatoes

The rain came last night. It will be here until June, maybe July. We’ve had such a dry summer in Portland. I’ve enjoyed the unusually long season of sun and heat, but it made me anxious. (Or maybe I’m always anxious and the odd weather gave me a thing on which to fasten it.) How would the Northwest ecosystem manage the drought? Most importantly, how would my mushrooms present themselves with so little water? On a trip to the coast for Labor Day weekend, we found about a quarter of the amount of mushrooms we found a year earlier. Last year I learned how to hunt for mushrooms. It was an excellent mushroom year. This year will probably be terrible, but now that the rains have come, there is hope.

But that’s the only hope I have in the fall, the only thing I look forward to. I love the summer and hate the dark and the cold. I’m sensitive. I have Season Affective Disorder. I could feel SAD coming on before it was officially fall, before the equinox, when the day was still longer than the night. A longer night than this, I can barely imagine it.

holding jar of sun-dried tomatoesThe only fall vegetable we have sprouting in the garden is spinach. Our ground cherries are dead, our tomatoes are dying, but the tomatillos are hanging on. I’m still harvesting red and yellow cherry tomatoes from the church across the street. Marvelous cherry tomatoes. I watched the tomatoes sprout in the late spring, obviously volunteers, growing any way they wanted over the planter boxes. No one watered the plants at all during the summer and they thrived, incongruous to the water-loving nature of tomatoes.

Since no one planted the cherry tomatoes, no one looked forward to the fruits of their non-labor, except me. For weeks, I have been picking and drying tomatoes in my cylindrical $4 yard sale Waring dehydrator from the late 1970s that smells like a basement.

I have become compulsive about drying everything, not just forgotten cherry tomatoes: wormy apples, shattered windfall pears, half-dead basil from the fridge. My 5-tray dehydrator has been whirring day and night.

I’ll enjoy having these dried foods when I can no longer enjoy fresh ones–at least without a trip to the grocery store to pick up unripe disappointments from Mexico–but I’m really dehydrating hundreds of cherry tomatoes to assuage my anxiety: anxiety about rotting, wasted food, anxiety about the coming winter. “Sun-dried” tomatoes are expensive, but not what I would consider a splurge. If you believe time is money, I’m wasting time and not saving money. I’m conducting the ritual of storing food for the winter, for the hard months ahead. It’s not necessary, our grocery stores don’t have seasons (except to sell us holiday crap) but it helps me to feel prepared.

When the mushrooms come around, they’re getting put on that dehydrator, too.

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