Beans, squashes, and tomatoes are having their annual resurgence, with straggling plants greening up miraculously and even producing late fruit. It’s an unpredictable phenomenon, terrible for planning, when early fall weather whip-saws between summery days and almost wintery nights. Do the fruits and veggies of this short reboot taste better because the growing conditions are less extreme than mid-summer, because the plant is older and wiser, or is it because I know the supply is ending and I’ll have to wait another year for sun-ripe tomatoes? While I have fall-winter seedlings nearly ready to plant, it seems so ungrateful and merciless to tear out plants that are offering a last taste of summer foods. But I must do it soon!
Of course large-scale farms have none of these concerns. They mainly grow for one-time harvests, sometimes done by machine, sometimes before full ripeness, before full flavor and nutrient richness. It seems to me like ageism, the idea that people are most valuable at a certain age, in their dewy youth, and the rest are of little worth. In some places, tomatoes grow as perennials, adapting for winter just as humans can be late bloomers and offer something completely different than they did in their exuberant, immature stage.
For example, Alexander Fleming accidentally invented penicillin and only received, the Nobel Prize in 1945, at age 64. Parkinson’s disease was identified by James Parkinson when he was 62, and 63 year old Polish countess Rosa Branicka contributed to the field of breast cancer surgery by operating on herself.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his New Yorker piece “Late Bloomers”, “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure.” Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote de la Mancha, experienced financial troubles, gunshot wounds, kidnap by pirates, jail time, and the loss of the use of his left hand before publishing his masterpiece at age 50. With that success he went on to write poems and novellas, including Don Quixote part II, which was published only months before his death at 68.
Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses) only began painting her famous naïf scenes at the age of 75, when arthritis made it too hard to embroider. She continued painting some 3,600 paintings until close to her death at age 101. Her paintings originally sold for $2 or $3, but Sugaring Off (1943) sold for $1.2 million in 2006.
In spite of/because of his OCD-type struggles, including obsessive list-making , Peter Roget published Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases at 73 and kept working on it until he died at 90.
Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar at age 61, told Gabriel Bell of Refinery 29, “”There are the privileged few who just seem to waft through life without having to ever meet any adversity or difficulty, which is really annoying…The rest of us, we have to struggle and fight.” After years of acting, Viola Davis played a role opposite Meryl Streep in the film Doubt and was finally noticed. She was nominated twice for Oscars before winning for the film Fences. Now 51 years old (well past ingénue by Hollywood standards), she recently won an Emmy for her role in How to Get Away With Murder, the first African-American actress to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Cooking and crafts master Martha Stewart launched Martha Stewart Living magazine at 49 and then built her empire from there. In1963, 50-year-old Julia Child began hosting “The French Chef,” the first of many, many cooking shows that helped introduce Americans to international cooking and flavor.
All of these folks muddled through, made mistakes, got sidetracked (or kidnapped by pirates), thought they were on the right track… until they found some unexpected heat and nourishment and burst forth like my veggies. Personally, I am not one of those annoying people Helen Mirren referred to that have wafted through life, so I want to salute ALL of the late bloomers who found (or will find) their calling, their reboot, their purpose, their gifts and hidden talents, their fresh inspiration, their happy accidents, and their rich, ripe fruits! This is your season!
Here is a ridiculously easy and tasty late summer recipe from Catalunya, where fresh produce nearly bursts out of Barcelona’s markets at this time of year.
Xamfaina with Pa amb Tomaquet
2 med eggplants (dark purple, round variety)
2 large red bell peppers
1 large yellow onion
1/2 head garlic, minced
Olive oil and red wine vinegar
- In a baking pan, roast the whole eggplant, peppers and onion at 450 degrees (baked potato heat)
- When all are soft and a bit squishy, remove them from the oven with tongs, place them in a paper bag to “blister”. After 5-10 minutes, take them out and peel them, then cut them in long strips and lay them out on a platter.
- Dress them with the garlic, salt, a drizzle of oil and a splash of vinegar – to taste. Let sit for a little while before enjoying at room temperature.
Serve on Pa amb Tomaquet which is sliced rustic bread with overripe tomato squished onto the bread until it is pink and tomatoey. Salt lightly and drizzle olive oil over it – not enough to be soggy! Or serve on pizza, focaccia, or your non-gluten preference, rice, polenta… Enjoy!