As far west as we could see, beyond the end of our valley, and perhaps the valley beyond that, the sky was filled with rain. Deep grey and lavender clouds hung heavy at the horizon, misty sheets of silver falling on the hills and fields. On our land the ground was hard and cracked, parched from more than a month of baking in the sun. The lines in the broken soil of the garden paths mimicked the patterns and the lines in our palms as we raised our hands to our foreheads, shielding our eyes from the sun. We squinted at the dark impending clouds knowing that it was a matter very little time before they arrived. The wind was still dry and hot, but we could feel the rain coming. The electricity was building in the air and all around us was the eerie calm that settles in when the dry breath of a bleached blue sky meets the dusky cool of an August storm.
When you live and die by the land you work it’s a fool who wagers on which is more important, the sun or the rain. Green things flourish in sunshine. The bees hum, the birds sing, the whole natural world celebrates when the sun shines, but without it’s measure of rain, the green earth crumbles, withers, and the birds’ songs catch in their throats, fields brown and shrivel. Even the bees get thirsty.
We watched the clouds a moment or two more. They rolled closer quickly, rumbling with thunder and the first strike of lightening, many miles off still, seemed to pull us back to action. The promise of rain was bittersweet knowing that the soil so badly needed quenching, but that nearly anything ripened, hanging on its branch or vine, would split and spoil as the first cool raindrops fell. My eyes crossed the yard from the porch to the garden. Rows of tomato bushes proudly stood, heavy with fruit that had gone from green and hard to succulent and red almost overnight. Such is the power of the sun.
A second clap of thunder, a third. What had been a hot blue sky was now a cooling swirl of high clouds carrying in the parade of grey. Twenty quick strides and we were crouched between rows of tomato plants, our arms and feet crushing their fragrant stems as we clamored to pluck the warm fruit. We filled buckets and baskets at break neck speed, not looking up each time the sky roared, ever closer, focused only on saving a small crop of red and gold gems before they were ruined by the very element they craved. Rivulets of sweat glistened at our temples, our hands moved deftly, lifting leaves, grasping firmly and with a quick twist-tug, prying the ruby fruits from the dark green bushes. We worked silently, methodically, not stopping until the sky above us finally opened and our backs were battered with fat raindrops, our shins splattered with mud. Soaked, we picked furiously.
It was not until the paths between the rows of bare plants were running with rain and mud that we stopped. Buckets filled, backs hunched and achy, we ran for the house, hauling our pails of tomatoes to the safety and cover of the porch. Looking down we saw our bounty, our prize: dozens upon dozens of perfectly ripe, unblemished tomatoes in every shade and variety from pale green and tiny to clustered like yellow grapes, to pendulous scarlet orbs as big as my two fists combined. We laughed, relieved and overwhelmed, our voices dulled by the thudding rain. Waiting, we stood, filthy but triumphant, knee deep in tomatoes as the rain poured down. We watched as the storm worked its magic and the land, almost audibly sighed, then finally drank. Watching the curtains of rain falling on the tired land I realized that August does not belong to the storms, but to the tomatoes.
Summer Garden Pasta
This recipe is very flexible – make it for one, or make it for a crowd. The amounts below are based on dinner sized portions for 4 people.
1 medium zucchini, sliced into long strips – about 2 cups (Use the julienne slicing setting on your mandolin if you have one. The coarse side of a box grater will work too)
2 C assorted cherry tomatoes, halved or sliced
200 g whole wheat spaghetti (or your favorite long pasta/noodle)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
zest and juice of a lemon
1 Tbsp thyme leaves, chopped, some left whole for garnish
½ C finely grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the zucchini finely to resemble the pasta. Slice or halve the cherry tomatoes. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook based on package directions. For whole wheat spaghetti this will take about 7-8 minutes.
While the pasta cooks, add the butter, oil, minced garlic and thyme to a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat so that the butter melts and the thyme and garlic become fragrant. Add the zucchini and cook until tender, about 4 minutes, increasing the heat to medium.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it well and add it to the saucepan with the zucchini. Cook together for anther 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and warm them through. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Garnish with any remaining thyme and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.