I have talked about my mom’s “projects” earlier. These were many, varied and breathtakingly exciting because of her own enthusiasm for everything she took up. So, if she’d got up one morning and said, “Hey, guess what, we’re all going to shave our heads today” or something like that, we’d have probably thought it was the most exciting thing on earth and pitied the rest of the poor sods who didn’t get to shave their heads off!
There were projects on baking, feeding the poor, writing stories, making up plays, building things (which invariably collapsed!), learning a new poem, learning to cook, even scrubbing the flagstones in the backyard – mundane things which she imbued with a sense of excitement and high adventure…
…one of those was growing a vegetable garden. Mom, having the world’s greenest thumb, we already had, like most houses of those decades, lots of things which grew without our much noticing them – sapotas (which we loved), papayas (which we disliked cordially and when lectured on how good it was for health and how it was called the ‘poor man’s mango’, our one thought was ‘why don’t we give it to him then – the poor man?”!!), sitaphal, spinach, guavas, curry leaves, lemons, bitter lemons, tomatoes and things. But no, my mom decided that the garden could be more productive. So off she went to the horticultural gardens and came back with packets of seeds – carrots, beans, potatoes, cabbages, cauliflower and stuff – very exciting.
Beds were dug, measured out and seeds planted at the proper intervals – each of us having a patch to take care of. Mine was the carrot patch. Two, then three days passed and there was no sign of anything green, much less anything orange (I’d thought they’d grow on top of the plant!). Consulted, mom disabused my mind of this weird notion – they grow underground. A week passed. I was convinced that carrots would have grown and would shrivel up and die of neglect if we didn’t pull them out. Not quite sure of this project meeting with parental approval, I wisely said nothing (very difficult task, i assure you!) and waited for the parents to leave for work. Armed with a trowel, i carefully dug up the patch – nothing except scattered seeds! Carefully covering them up again, i let them be but dug them up every few days to check on them – not a carrot did we get out of that patch!
Another “project” that died in infancy but left us with a great deal of curiosity about growing things!
The tomatoes thrived, however – rather difficult to kill them – even with such over-enthusiastic gardening, methinks and we got to eat plenty of them in many forms… one of those…
- Tomatoes – the riper the better and the country variety is best for this – 6 – cut into chunks.
- Tamarind paste – 1/2 tsp (optional if tomatoes are not sour enough)
- Red chili powder – 1 tsp
- Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
- Jaggery – 2 tbsp or more – depending on the sourness of the tomatoes.
- Green chili – minced – 2
- Sesame oil – 1 tsp
- Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
- Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
- Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
Pulse the tomatoes to a chunky puree.
Heat oil in a pan and temper with all the tempering ingredients. Add green chili, turmeric and red chili powder. Immediately add the tomato puree. Bring to a boil and add salt and jaggery. If the tomatoes are not sour enough, add half a tsp of tamarind paste. Lower the flame and cook for a few more minutes till the raw tomato smell goes.
Eaten with dosas, idlis, as a topping on bread or frankies…
And even if you’ve got a brown thumb, you can’t go wrong with growing tomatoes, i assure you… be more careful with carrots though and resist the temptation to pull them out – they take anywhere up to twenty days to produce shoots!