Wet Bounty

We finally made our first friend in Southeastern Ohio! Well, our first friend our age–I went home from church with the most darling couple my first week there. They’re newlyweds in their 70s, having both been widowed at least once, and I absolutely consider them friends. Our new friend’s name is Taylor, and he actually lives across the river in West Virginia.

He sent us a message using the contact form on the webpage for the artist’s collective, eager to get to know us. When we first met, for delicious burritos in Wheeling, we asked how he found us and he said he googled “permaculture” for the area. While this makes sense as the interest we both have in common, googling permaculture Wheeling is more likely to give you results from Malaysia than our plans for agricultural design. Currently, we don’t know how we actually met, but we do know that after burritos, we drove out to his dad’s place in the hills and he knew a thing or two about permaculture. After we toured the fruit trees and fish pond, wondering at all the types of flowers we rarely saw in gardens at home, he loaded us down with tomatoes, squash, zucchini, pulling up carrot after carrot, insisting, “They needed to be thinned anyway.” But the tomatoes, we had more than we knew what to do with.

I was glad I had brought half a loaf of Challah for him, the first I had made without LM’s supervision that I didn’t manage to burn.

When we got home, I saw in our kitchen that my roommate had also received tomatoes from her Aunt Lu, saw in our garden that red orbs hung from our own vines, and knew we would have to get creative to consume them all. We tossed around the idea of a bruschetta, but that would hardly deplete the gallon-sized box bull of the round, ripe fruit of summer.

Armed with my recent baking success, I determined to   bake a loaf of tomato basil bread.

I googled directions, admittedly searching for one with characteristics like that of my beloved St. Louis Bread Company’s loaf, but they all called for tomato paste. “No way,” I thought, “am I going to drive back down to the grocery store and get tomato paste, the whole point is that I have all these tomatoes to use.”  So I picked a recipe and decided to simply substitute fresh. 

I start the thing as directed, dissolving the yeast in a cup of water, then decide to blend the larger tomatoes before adding them. Here, I realize I’ve created more liquid than the dough is going to know what to deal with. I keep adding flour, hoping it’ll figure itself out, but once I add some three cups extra I can imagine the disaster of flavor my “fresh” alternative might become. I cross my fingers that adding more yeast will keep it from falling flat, and dissolve another tablespoon in a glass.  The extra water will mean more flour, so I also up the sugar and oil.

We don’t have a full set of kitchen supplies yet, so I’m making the dough in one of those sink inset tubs, and the dough about fills it, a pink blobby mass. I add fresh basil from the garden, wish I had added to the blending since we don’t have a sharp knife either. I mostly tear it apart with my fingers before throwing it in and starting to knead the gargantuan pile.

In the end, it overflowed the tub in its rising, but I punched it down and separated it into two loaves before baking. ( I gave it one more rise and punch down session than the recipe called for because it just seemed like the thing to do after dividing the dough.) At this point I recalled the Leatherman I had received from my workplace as a goodbye gift, and used its sharp knife (freshly cleaned) to cut the x into the top of the loaves.

I also sliced up several of the cherry tomatoes, tossed them in a little oil and brown sugar and smeared this mixture over the top of the loaves.

They came out beautifully and everyone fought for the pieces with the seemingly sun-dried tomatoes, which candied nicely.

I can’t give you a recipe, since I didn’t keep track of the modifications, but unless you want to end up with a huge bounty of bread, you may wish to measure your cut tomatoes as part of the liquid additions if you give the idea a go.

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