The Shawnee News-Star Weekender August 10th 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg As I write this, my knee and foot are propped up in a chair.  The knee is swollen, turning some interesting earthy colors and shooting pain from its central location whenever it decides.  My knee is in control of my life right now, dictating every […]

The Shawnee News-Star Weekender August 10th 2019

Juicy slices of Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Becky Emerson Carlberg

As I write this, my knee and foot are propped up in achair.  The knee is swollen, turning someinteresting earthy colors and shooting pain from its central location wheneverit decides.  My knee is in control of mylife right now, dictating every action. Don't underestimate the foot.  Itwas the instigator of my fall, tangling itself in carpet and a landlinecord.  The knee simply tried to lessenthe impact of my descent onto cold impersonal tile.  Landing squarely on the left knee with theright knee hesitating to participate, my right arm flung itself out into theair for support and found the floor instead. The phone came apart as it hit the surface, scattering batteries in alldirections.  My son, on the other end ofthe line, was left in silence.

My kneecap was fractured, a vertical fracture that will take3-4 months to heal.  Yay.   

The feet.  My parents thought they'd have to carry me to school since I avoided walking at a very early age.  Turns out the heelbones were malformed and the feet had no arches.  Throughout my childhood I received foot therapy, foot wraps, steroid shots, and wore lace-up reinforced orthopedic shoes (called Barefoot Freedom of all things), steel braces, inlays (some cork), and plastic orthotics.  More than a few plaster casts were made of my feet.  The foam imprints now made in boxes are so civilized. Despite all the help my feet had received, all was for naught when I went down for the count.

Young Cherokee Purple plants in Earth Box

My reward for surviving the nasty fall was the last freshCherokee Purple Heirloom tomato harvested from my plant.  This awesome plant produced at least 15tomatoes ranging from 4 to 8 inches in size with some weighing over apound.  No more tomatoes can be found onany vine although Cherokee Purple is indeterminate, a tomato that can continueto produce fruit throughout the growing season. Our night and daytime temperatures rose too high and the tomato ceasedflower production.  Tomatoes prefer arange between 59-68 degrees F at night and 70-85 degrees F during the day foroptimum fruit production.  The magnificentplant will be babied, watered and kept alive for fall tomatoes, at least thatis my goal.

Thick luscious slices interspersed with thin slivers ofonion to accompany cottage cheese is my favorite way to enjoy tomatoes.  The Cherokee Purple has abundant rich flavor,is meaty yet juicy, with the slightest tang of sweetness.  The little tomato plant I purchased in earlyspring had been grown by Bonnie Plants.

Bonnie Plants was started over 100 years ago (1918) byBonnie and Livingston Paulk in Union Springs, Alabama.  With $50 in their pockets they bought 2pounds of cabbage seeds, planted them in their backyard, and months later thecabbages were taken to town in a buggy and sold.  The name 'Bonnie Plants' was for Bonnie.  Onions, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers andother veggies were added as the company grew and expanded.  Bonnie Plants first introduced commercialpotted vegetable plants.  Today 300 plantvarieties of Bonnie Plants, including organics, can be found in all 50 statesand Canada.  The company president is Bonnieand Livingston's grandson!

The Cherokee Purple (Solanum lycopersicum) is one of the best yielding heirloom tomatoes on the market.  A retired chemist resurrected the ancient tomato.  Craig LeHoullier has 3,000 varieties of tomatoes, one of the largest personal collections in the US.  Throughout his Raleigh NC backyard he grows 200 plants a year.  In 1990 he got a packet of tomato seeds in the mail from John Green of Sevierville, TN.  The seeds came from some delicious tomatoes he had gotten from a woman who had been given the tomatoes by her neighbors.  The neighbors said these tomatoes had been grown by their family for 100 years.  The seeds had originally come from Cherokee Indians.

The story may well be true. Craig took on the challenge and was extremely impressed by the tomatoesproduced.  He described the color of thefruit as a bad leg bruise and named them Cherokee Purple.  Tomato seeds are fairly easy to save and havelong viability.  Under proper storagetomato seeds can live 10 years and some have germinated after 16 years.  This tomato tolerates humidity and diseasebetter than other variety of dark tomatoes.

Craig sent the tomato to Jeff McCormack of Southern ExposureSeed Exchange (SESE).  Jeff loved theflavor and in 1993 listed the variety in the cooperatively-owned seedcatalog.  Today the SESE continues to usecertified organic seed stock as well as non-certified but ecologically grownseed stock from trusted sources.  Theyhave pledged to not knowingly sell genetically engineered plants or seeds.

Not yet finished with the Cherokee tomato, Craig saw amutation arise in his Cherokee Purples in 1995. The tomatoes were yellow with a brown mahogany hue.  He named them Cherokee Chocolate.  In 1997 a different variation cropped up inthe Cherokee Chocolate.  These tomatoeshad a yellow skin but green flesh and earned the name of Cherokee Green.

Raccoon Family

The cardinal and wren offspring are currently being taughtthe ropes of being successful songbirds. The parents still have occasional panic attacks, but all seem to begoing smoothly. The mother and baby raccoon, the young opossum and roadrunner visiton occasion.    

The sponge mop is no longer a nursery.  The latest batch of wrens have fledged.  Days ago I watched as babies milled around inside the tiny tube-like interior.  Today it is empty. For the first time in weeks I can sweep the patio, except now the turkeys are back.

Mother Turkey with Poults

The mother turkey brings her brood of 7 rapidly growingpoults twice a day to the backyard. They peck around in search of birdseed.While she remains ever vigilant, one or two young birds like to hop up into theredcedar and perch on the branches. A few dig in under the birdbath. Some playa game of chase.  Others make smallturkey wallows in the leaves, fanning their wings and tails to make a softcomfy place to rest. Nothing looks sadder than hot, droopy turkeys.  The leaves again cover much of the patio. 

The yearly Perseid Meteor Showers are back.  They streak across the night sky from now until August 24th.  Originating from the 17 mile-wide path of the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids can be a dud in the middle of the night or a brilliant shower bursting with fireworks before sunrise.  Peak is August 12th. Full moon arrives August 15th, which may interfere with the viewing of the meteor shower.  There may be clouds, overcast conditions, or even rain.  Plan to see them anyway.  For me it always marks the start of school.  Years ago in Okeene.  Warm windy night. Blanket spread out on the ground.  Hands behind head.  Waiting to see a short or long streaker, fast green stripe, quick blip, dot of light continually enlarging until it suddenly disappears or the sky full of little bits of comet madly dashing off in all directions. 

Meteor Shower. I did this on scratch-board, probably after a night session of waiting and waiting to see just one shooting star.

Best viewing time is between 2 am and dawn.  Lose a little sleep.  So worth it.