“Before the reward there must be labor. You plant before you harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.” — Ralph Ransom

Throughout the summer months, local farmers and home gardeners have labored to sow and reap a natural and nutritious harvest. The result of this labor is a glorious bounty that will grace the tables of many a Labor Day celebration.

Conscious cooks know that now is the ideal time to appreciate the fleeting days of summer. Labor Day is an appropriate occasion to celebrate the perfection of local produce, including fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Picnics, parties and barbecues will be extra luscious when local produce is on the menu. Savor the stunning simplicity of steamed corn on the cob, each perfect kernel an absolute miracle. Deeply flavored, sun-drenched tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, crisp green beans, fragrant melons, and sweetly-scented peaches are among the building blocks of late summer meals.

Cut thick slices of big, beefy, tomatoes for essential summer sandwiches. Use your favorite bread, something with a softer texture is advisable, apply a liberal layer of mayonnaise and a serious sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Eat slowly, the memory of this juicy jubilation will have to sustain you until next season!

Cucumbers, cut into discs and covered with cider, red, rice wine or white balsamic vinegar, black pepper, salt and a handful of minced herbs are a superb side dish. Wrap beautiful summer beets, both red and gold, in foil and roast on a grill until a fork easily pierces the flesh. When cool, rub the skins off and marinate in raspberry vinegar. Embellish with chopped mint, basil and chives, season with salt and pepper and add creamy goat cheese if desired.

Zucchini and yellow summer squash, cut medium thick and grilled, just until pliable, but not mushy, can be combined with grilled eggplant planks and quartered onions for an excellent make ahead Labor Day party dish. Arrange the veggies on a big platter, drizzle with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with plenty of chopped herbs, including parsley, basil, dill and oregano. Consider adding chopped hot pepper or slices of fresh mozzarella. The meaty texture and slightly charred edges of the veggies is delectable. Any leftovers are a delightful addition to pasta, sandwiches, frittatas or omelets.

These spectacular summer ingredients are loaded with restorative vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A and C, which are essential for repairing skin damage from the summer sun, invigorating hair and nail growth and providing internal cellular protection. The greatest benefit is the opportunity to enjoy pristine produce in its purest and most potent form.

What a blessing to reap the benefits from those who love to labor in gardens. We could not prepare our own delicious life without them. Happy Labor Day.

Labor of Love Tomatoes

Serves 8

1 mashed garlic clove

sea salt

2-3 pounds fresh summer tomatoes

1 small sweet onion, very thinly sliced

¼ cup red wine or balsamic vinegar

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 loaf of bread, preferably a sturdy baguette or ciabatta, cut into ½ inch thick slices, and toasted or grilled (optional)

fresh baby spinach or arugula

1 ½ cups shaved parmesan cheese

Mix mashed garlic with a pinch of salt in a big bowl. Chop tomatoes and add to the bowl along with the onion, vinegar and oil. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Let marinate for a couple of hours. Cut bread slices into cubes, if using. Just before serving, toss tomatoes with bread cubes and add spinach or arugula. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed and top with parmesan cheese.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook,” writes about preparing a delicious life and presents healthy food workshops throughout New England. She is a professional cook, organic gardener, and a graduate of The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College.