14 August 2012

My Neighbor’s Garden

Our New Contributor, Melissa Ward is sending us a post from Sisters. We have Market participants from Mid-Oregon, but they are usually ranchers. Melissa, who runs Sisters Bakery, is writing about how hard it is to grow tomatoes smack dab in the middle of the state. Tomatoes are growing like weeds in my backyard, but it’s really hard to keep livestock. Thanks to photographer Kara Mikkelson. Brent McGregor helped make the images Web-ready.

Sister’s Garden

Greetings from Central Oregon!  It’s not like Portland over here!

Brilliant night skies, spectacular views of the Cascade Range, wildflowers, fields of lava, clear lakes and tall pines, spare rocky landscapes with dignified old junipers and sage both so fragrant after rain that an entire morning turns to rapture, lovely pure water, yes to all of that. Much appreciated. Perfect for the poet.

But the lush and beautiful harvest does not come to mind. There are no easy tomatoes here! You don’t even necessarily have a yard, per se; it’s more like an area of influence requiring defense strategies.

For local gardeners, all of those sweet souls who love the labors of greenery and favor a practical outcome, any semblance of bounty is hard won. There are the vagaries of the weather at this altitude, all the seeding and reseeding of a typical cold Spring, then the foreshortened growing season, then the abrupt intense dry heat and the deer and the chipmunks and the gophers and suddenly the abrupt bolt of lightning that is August and poof it’s over. The first day of school, the first frost.  Thus the tomato problem, without a greenhouse, it’s a heartbreaker.

Nevertheless, my longtime neighbor across the road regaled me many a February in years past, when, in the middle of very serious conversations about the world situation, she would suddenly trot to the kitchen to fetch the seed catalogs to uplift our spirits.  Weeks later she would come to my house rattling little bags next to her face with a look that was pure joyous anticipation.

A devoted, gifted gardener, she drafted her gallant husband to build a tall fence in a promising spot. She worked big bags and piles of amendments into the sandy, bereft soil that covers so lightly the prevailing bedrock. She enlisted all available youngsters for weeding and thinning. My children would come home sunburned and dirty but grinning proudly, laden with tiny beet greens, Bok Choy and the Butter Lettuce so tender it almost made you weep. Often both families would dine riotously together on one of the porches with ethical potlucks starring her garden salads that inspired all the senses, including sound.

Parsley, so good, so under appreciated

Then all of our kids grew up and most of them moved to the Willamette Valley where her relatively effortless garden is wild with yield and she actually has time to paint.

I must say that I do work. Bread labor, you could say.  I own and operate Sisters Bakery in the first town you come to down the east side of the Santiam Pass on the way to Bend or on the scenic route to California. We provision people for these trips, or just for their morning, putting out a sugar high you will likely remember. I and my staff generally work long hours making people happy. So, no I don’t have a garden.

I have a few pots and boxes on the porch for basil and cilantro, chives, mint, oregano, thyme and marigolds.  The accouterments of a real garden, if you know what I mean. Things that go with the flourishing garden of the new neighbors….terrible, I know, but I barter so it’s okay.

I wanted to share a wonderful high summer recipe that my Mother made sure that I had when I left the nest with no actual cooking experience, just her giddy admonishment, “Cook with color!” Off I went into the great world with the following on an index card and it has been all that I needed to get started in the food arena because it is real, fresh, beautiful to behold, and it celebrates the season with its queen, the Heirloom Tomato.

For me this means a trip to Richard’s Produce on the way into Sisters, or Melvin’s Fir Street Market right behind the Bakery.  Or across the road, of course.

I don’t have to have the utter best of everything but I personally will not use those contrived looking rubber hothouse hydroponic dudes on the stems–they take my sensors right to a fire alarm of fish fertilizer. No thanks.  I’d rather wait all year for the real thing, and they are here now with the Heirlooms, thanks to the Oregon growers whose commitment to authentic flavor makes life good in the Northwest.

Tomatoes Lutece


Combine the following in a pint jar with tight fitting lid. Shake well. Allow to sit while preparing the tomatoes, in fact it can be made in advance and refrigerated and is thus easily transported and assembled elsewhere.  I have doubled the dressing because the leftovers are so



1/2 C. freshly procured parsley, finely chopped

2-4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tsp. salt

1/2 C. good olive oil

4 Tbsp. vinegar of choice: apple cider, rice or balsamic all work

4 tsp. prepared mustard: ordinary yellow or Dijon, my choice

Slice and place in wide rows on a large platter:

8 firm ripe tomatoes

Pour the dressing over the slices and cover loosely.  Allow to stand at room temperature  for about 20 minutes.  Feast!

A delicious salad or, with some hefty garnish, a cool, appealing main dish beside a crusty loaf in the park, a good dry Parmigiano Reggiano on the side, toasted pine nuts or walnuts, perhaps, some homegrown basil, a tiny dish of aioli, white bean hummus, or

those shiny deep dark olives for drama.

Endless, the possibilities and joys of late summer on the porch with your sweetheart in a long watercolor dusk.