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Michael Perry: A tomato harvest to remember

Michael Perry: A tomato harvest to remember


This year’s final batch of tomatoes is slow-bubbling in the stock pot. Out there in the dark, a steady November rain is chilling the earth. The scene closes the circle nicely, as just six months ago our little family of four got soaked to the shorts transplanting the last of the tomato plants in an utter monsoon.

It was a character-building experience, or so I shall describe it in my memoirs. I cannot vouch for how my children shall describe it in theirs.

Those tomatoes we transplanted were plastered flat the following morning but you wouldn’t have known it when harvest time arrived. Over the course of the summer they jungled up in profusion. In addition to the long rows planted intentionally, a big cluster of volunteers sprang up in the previous year’s plot.

We gathered them by the bucket and box, tomatoes of every shape, consistency and color, from mottled green to bright yellow to deep, deep red. Even with friends and relatives helping out and lightening the load, we could barely keep up. The reducing and canning and freezing went on and on.

And then the culmination: my wife and me in the kitchen, chunking up the final collection.

It is tricky to second-guess one’s life partner, especially in matters of food preservation. But I gotta tell ya: I dragged my feet on this last batch.

My wife is the prime catalyst behind our gardening endeavors, and our grocery budget benefits because of it. The savings factor is multiplied by her deeply ingrained resistance to waste.

Her thrift reminds me of my mother, who among other things was known to spoon spilt milk back into the pitcher, repurpose food from the local jail, and raised a huge and healthy passel of kids on expired goods and dented cans.

I’m not saying Mom ever uttered the phrase, “You can just eat around that,” but I maintain it was implied.

On a related note, if your wife commits an act of economy that reminds you of your mom, noting so by calling your wife your mother’s name prefaced by “OK there,” may earn you some real cold alone time.

The point is, these final tomatoes had been plucked before the big frost and left to allegedly ripen; in fact, they looked like the nightshades section of a plant diseases and disorders handbook. There was wizening, deformity, odd spots, frank rot and general squishiness.

Timidly, I broached the idea that perhaps we would make it through the winter without them.

What my wife said in response is irrelevant; I got to chopping, trimming and excising. When it was all over I’d say we ran a ratio of roughly 2:1 stock pot to chicken bucket, but I was done broaching, and instead will just say that we are good on tomatoes this year.

At one point near the end I noticed my wife was not working as surgically as I, and in fact was tossing in product not up to my standards. Reading my face, she smiled brightly and said, “Oh you’d be surprised the things you eat that you don’t know about,” and I will think about that all winter long.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” ( Read more from Michael Perry at

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