Saturday, September 24, 2011

IN A PICKLE- IF I HAD JUST SAID NO!

    


Antique pickle jars from the 1800's. Before Ball, Kerr and Mason came along, these are the kinds of jars that were used for food storage.
  


      “Oh God,” I thought, and this from a person who probably doesn’t believe in God. But, I knew I was in a lot of trouble. Compulsively, I kept checking under the blanket I had thrown over it, as if it would mysteriously disappear. But, no. And now, crushed by its own weight, thin, serious fluid was beginning to ooze from it. Lividity was obvious.  A fly appeared on the window ledge.
    I walked out of the room to try to think. I paced; chewed my cuticles. Why did I have to do it? If just this once I had screwed up the courage to say no, I wouldn’t be in this damned mess. It was going to take me a long time to unravel this if I could get out of it at all. And that was looking less likely by the minute. “Think! Think!” I said aloud to the walls and gathering flies. Was it me, or was it getting hotter in there? I pulled my shirt away from my neck. I swear I could hear the wall clock ticking louder and louder. Time. I needed more time. That, I knew I wasn’t going to get. Decomposition waits for no one. 
     I should have known when they said they were leaving town the next day to just say no. What the hell was I thinking? Not thinking was my problem. They said do it; I said yes. It never entered my head to say no, even when they said it had to be done right then. I tried to beg off, stall, but no. I didn’t know Alice well, but I had always thought she seemed like a nice person. “Nice person,” what does that really mean? Nothing, clearly, because she was capable of being as forceful as need be. She got me to go over there didn’t she? Even though I didn’t want to, at least not right then. I didn’t even want to get involved in it, but I did. And I did it to appease a woman whom I didn’t even really know.  “Pathetic, just frigging pathetic,” I mumbled to myself. Sweat beaded on my forehead.
    Alice and Erland looked like average, middle income, middle aged, middle everything people. Boring people. Harmless people. I met Alice when she started taking care of Fannie. I’m Fannie’s gardener. Every year, I plant a few hundred marigolds in her front yard and keep them weeded for her. She used to do it herself, but for years she’s been moving slower and slower with a rolling walker in front of her. Alice started coming to help her around the house. Eventually, she was there for a few hours every day. I would see her only enough to say hi when she came and left. Erland started plowing up part of Fannie’s back forty he said for a garden. Erland liked to grow things, Alice said. Fannie said they didn’t have enough land at their place and she kind of liked having the old farm used. The farm had lain fallow for nearly fifty years, since her father died. Erland put a tall fence around the area he’d tilled. He put a lock on the gate. 
     Once or twice, Erland showed up to work the garden while I was pulling weeds at the front of the house. I’d nod and wave hello. He never spoke. Hell, he barely even looked at me! I figured he was shy or stupid, or both. Didn’t matter to me. He always drove his truck straight across the field and right up to the gate. I couldn’t see what he was actually doing over there as he loaded and unloaded God knows what. I could just hear him banging and thumping around. I always noticed when he left because I’d hear the shovels jouncing around in the truck bed as he drove over the old furrows long hidden by tall grass. 
     One time, he stopped the truck and stared at me while I worked. I was bent over, ass to the air pulling miles of sorrel roots from the sour ground. I hated working there. It was always hot and buggy. It was a job I had because, once again, I hadn’t had the starch to say no when I should have and I hated it. I stood, hands to my low back. I was uncomfortable on two counts: my sore muscles and his intense stare. “Hey Erland,” I hollered over. His right hand reflexively darted to the ignition. If he was going to be watching me, we were going to chat for a minute. I’ve found that usually, reducing anonymity cuts down on creep behavior. When I started across the yard toward him, he hesitated one second too long to make a clean get away. He dropped his hand away from the key. “There’s loads of Bluebirds coming through here, Erland.” “You ought to put up some Bluebird houses around that garden,” I said.
     His stare shifted from my face. I couldn’t tell if he was looking at my body or my tool belt. Either way, I didn’t like it. “Bluebirds, that’d be nice wouldn’t it?” I said, lamely. When he opened his mouth to speak, I noticed his teeth were bad. “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birds,” he said, reaching for the truck key.  I should have known right then. If I hadn’t been too hot and bug bitten to pay attention, I would have been smart enough to not get involved. 
     My rhythm for weeding broken, I decided to ask Fannie for a glass of water.  Fearful of being robbed, she generally had the place locked up tighter than a vault. But today, Alice was in there with her. Alice insisted that Fannie let fresh air in though the screen door. They usually sat at the kitchen table gabbing about I couldn’t imagine what. Sometimes they said prayers. Alice never missed church. Back in the day when Fannie could walk, she was cut of the same cloth. She never missed a mass or high holiday. But now, it was too hard for her to get in and out of a car, so she didn’t go. And she missed it. Alice’s religion compulsion was another thing that should have tipped me off, that and her insufferable tidiness and helpfulness. 
   Leaning against the door jam, I pried off my dirty boots. I always took my shoes off before I went into Fannie’s house. If I didn’t, Alice would have come right behind me with a dust pan and whisk broom. Padding toward the kitchen in my socks, they didn’t hear me coming. “Alice, just ask her when you go out, why don’t you. Maybe she’ll do it,” Fannie said. She sounded nervous.  “Well you know Erland ain’t gonna say nothin’ about it. That you can count on!” Alice’s declaration had a hint of nasty to it. “He’s always leavin’ the hard parts up to me. I got to find all the means for getting’ things done, “she groused. 
     When I appeared in the kitchen door, Fannie jumped and made a little whooping noise. “Oh! Lord! I didn’t hear you! Come in, come in,” she motioned. “You must need water, hot as it is out there. Hot as blazes! Help yourself,” she pointed to the sink. Normally, Alice would be chatty, but not this time. When I smiled and said hello, she looked down at the table top, obviously uncomfortable that I had walked in on their conversation.  “Alice, why don’t you just ask her?” said Fannie.  Alice reflexively picked at an invisible spot of dirt buried n the floral pattern of the table cover. She didn’t respond more than to make a little cough. “What on earth is going on here?” I wondered to myself, turning to the sink. I ran a glass of water. I turned back to the table just in time to see Alice vigorously shaking her head at Fannie, cueing her to silence on whatever the subject had been.
     And that’s how I got into this mess. I should have pushed them to tell me what was going on, but I didn’t. So, when the phone rang, I was caught totally off guard and said yes, I’d come help them. When I got there, Alice was waiting in the yard twisting her apron in her hands. Who even wears an apron anymore? She looked like a frightened deer. “You’ll take it won’t you? Fannie said you’d help. Erland’ll put it in your car. We’re leavin’ town tomorrow and it’s got to go today!” Erland appeared from around the house. Without speaking, he opened my car and started loading it in. I’d have to clean it out later. I wondered how I’d get the stain out. Red’s a hard color to deal with. Bleach? Would bleach work?
     I’ll admit that I panicked. Not knowing what else to do, I put it in the bathtub and covered it up. Fearful that someone would show up, I threw a blanket over it. All I needed was for somebody to see it! I’d never be able to explain. Maybe David would help me. I knew about spousal immunity. He couldn’t be made to testify against me, could he? No sane person could explain this away.  Could I make a jury believe that I was a victim? In the mean time, I went onto the Internet to see if I could find some ways of disposing of it.
    The second he came through the door, David knew something was wrong. “What’s going on?” he asked. “And where’d all these flies come from?” He waved a few away from his face. I knew if I spoke, I’d say too much. I took his hand and lead him to the bathroom. I had closed the door as if to keep it in there, not that it was going to move on its own. When I opened the door, he said “Oh, god, what the hell have you got in here?” I walked over to the tub. I could see the form under the blanket, a bloated corpus lying in state. Red fluid seeped from under an edge of fabric. This was the moment of truth. I couldn’t hide it from him any longer; I had to show him what I had done. I took a corner of the blanket and flung it back revealing five, hideous bushels of ripe tomatoes. May God help me!

These are killer tomatoes! This harvest business can be bad for your health.

We will be eating tomatoes into the next century. One of many tasty dishes I have made with them  has been tomato pie. It goes like this:

One nine inch pie crust cooked. Don't let it get too brown. You need to cook it just enough so that when you put the tomatoes in the juice doesn't soak into it and it make it a soggy mess. It's okay if you forget to cook it first, too. I've done that and it came out fine. My mother used to put sesame seeds in her pie crust. That gives it a lovely nutty flavor, esp. good in a savory dish. If you use cheater crusts (pre made from the supermarket), you can still add sesame seeds. Roll the crust out a tiny bit before you cook it. Sprinkle the seeds on before you roll it which will press them into the dough.

4-5 ripe tomatoes. Slice them. Put them into a colander and sprinkle salt on them. Let them drain for about 15 minutes. You are trying to reduce the juice to pulp ratio a little so the pie isn't a juicy, soggy swamp.
1/2 of a big, fat red onion. Yellow or Vidalia will work, too. Cut into rings. I like them thick so that I know there is onion in the pie. To each his own. Lay the onion slices into the bottom of the cooked pie shell. Then put the tomato slices on top of the onions to cover the pie bottom.
Fresh herbs: as much basil, loveage and oregano as you can scrounge from your garden to make about 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs. I love lovage. Basil is especially nice with this, but anything you have fresh that you like will work.
Cheese:
1 Cup cheddar or Jarlsberg or whatever you like that's in the fridge and has strong flavor. You want something to hold up to the tangy tomatoes, herbs and onions
1 Cup Mozzarella. Be mindful of moisture. For this, the cheap, shredded super market stuff is better because it's dry
1 Cup of mayo. I like the kind made of olive oil, especially since I have a cholesterol problem and the cheese is already really pushing it
about 1/4 Cup of cream. I actually use non dairy creamer for this, another cholesterol thing, and it works great. Mix the cheeses, mayo and cream together. Mix the herbs in with it and the cracked pepper. It will be stiff. You want that because the tomatoes will be very juicy when they start to cook. The cheese stuff will sort of settle down amongst the tomatoes as it cooks. Don't put in too much cream! You just want enough to make the cheese and mayo mixable. Put the cheese stuff by blobfulls (French culinary term) onto the tomatoes. 
cracked pepper to taste. You already salted the tomatoes, don't do that again!
Bread crumbs, enough to cover the top. I like Panko. It's crispier.

Bake the whole mess at 350 for about an hour. Be sure to let the pie set for a few minutes after it comes out of the oven. That way all of the contents will coalesce making it easier to serve. It tastes great even if you don't.

This link has a really interesting article about food storage containers,  A.K.A., "pickling jars" and their history.
http://www.collectorsweekly.com/bottles/fruit-jars


DISCLAIMER: THE CHARACTERS DEPICTED IN THIS STORY ARE FICTIONAL. THE EVENTS DESCRIBED HERE-IN ARE FICTIONAL AND DO NOT REPRESENT ANY ACTUAL PEOPLE NOR TRUE EVENTS.

19 comments:

  1. RRR,

    You should publish your blog entries in book form. Seriously - they keep getting better and better!

    Leonwardo il Magnifico

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  2. Absolutely marvelous post! You have a way with words. You had my rapt attention while reading the entire post. I agree with Anonymous, a book of your blog entries is a must! Mmm, that tomoato pie sounds fabulous. Happy tomato eating!

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  3. 5 bushels! You poor girl. So you've made a pie. What are you planning
    For the next 4-3/4 bushels?? Oh my, my, my. The joys of September

    Spaghetti sauce anyone? Lol

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  4. Tex, Annie, Leonwardo and Julie, thank you all for the reads and comments and high regard. If anyone gets any ideas about the right publisher to approach, please let me be the first to know! I have a five gallon cook pot full of tomato sauce to share, ripe and ready. Seems like a good trade to me.

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  5. I love every thing about tomatoes. Including this post and the pie recipe. Thanks so much!!! Beautiful glass jars those are. = - }

    blufeather
    September 24, 2011 10:15 PM

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  6. What a great post and story. I'm sure there are lots of recipes using up your tomatoes.

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  7. Firstly, love the pics of the pickle jars, excellent bluish tinge to them..and secondly, it's pretty late here in Perth,and I was just heading off to bed before I clicked on your post...yeh like that was going to happen till I'd read the last word, was so sure it was going to be something nasty in the bath tub haha! Brilliant story.

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  8. eileeninmd, Thank you very much. Yes, I have tons of recipes. Lack of interest, however is beginning to overcome me! I have a five gallon pot of tomato sauce to put up now and more 'matos to go. And do little time.......

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  9. Thank you, Perth! You are probably asleep as I write. Hope I didn't give you nightmares! And, depending on how you look at it, it WAS something nasty in the bathtub! In fact, some of it is still in there. YUK!

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  10. 1) Those pickle jars oar absolutely gorgeous!
    2) I amire your self restraint. I would have asked what was going on, then, because I too am rather lacking in the starch department, I would not have said no.
    3) The words that came out of your husband's mouth when he walked into the house and saw you are pretty well identical to what my husband would say. Kind of scary in a comforting sort of way that they know you so well.
    4) I had to go back and read the story again. I would never have thought of tomatoes as the "it".
    5) Tomato pie. Totally new concept to me. Pie crusts and I do not coexist happily so it's anybody's guess what the results would be if I were to gather up my courage and try to make this!

    Chrissie Pissie
    September 25, 2011 11:10 PM

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  11. fantastic short, I love your way with words, thanks for sharing, hugs Teresa

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  12. I assume you are canning and freezing about now. mother used to do that with the tomatoes daddy grew, our basement had jars and jars and jars of tomatoes, she used them for chili and spaghetti and all kinds of things, even tomato gravy but never PIE... i love the photos of the bottles. and the tomatoes with Donald visiting.

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  13. Thank you so much for visiting and following my blog!! I wish I could say I took all the photographs on my blog, but I didn't....but I treasure amazing photography work...such as yours!! This is a great blog ~ you are such a talented writer ~ and I like that you used the name "Alice"!! I look forward to reading your future posts!! Much kindness ~ alice

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  14. We have a bazillion tomatoes this year too. Hard to find uses for all of them.

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  15. Just had to quickly post that your new cover photo of the asters and butterflies is gorgeous!!!
    The best, AnnieO

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  16. thoroughly enjoyed reading this post :)
    have a great weekend!

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  17. Tomatoes for every meal. Well I've always herd the tomatoe is a fruit, but I never tried them on my cereal.
    Happy canning. LOL

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  18. Excellent writing! I'll be looking for more!




    bramasole

    October 28, 2011 11:56 AM

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