Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Tomato harvest -- an impending glut?

The tomatoes are beginning to ripen rapidly now. Not just one or two, but lots of them simultaneously.

A tomato medley

Not that I'm complaining. There are loads of things you can make with tomatoes: salads, salsas, soups, and any number of more complex hot dishes. One of our favourite ways of eating tomatoes is semi-dried - i.e. like the "sunblush" tomatoes you can buy in the supermarket. This methd concentrates the flavour wonderfully. Here's how you do it. Halve some tomatoes (preferably smallish ones),  put them on a baking tray, add a little twist of pepper, a few grains of sugar, a flake or two of sea salt, and a drizzle of olive oil, Top each half with a tiny piece of garlic or a leaf of your favourite herb. Then cook them on a VERY low heat (120 degrees or less) for about an hour or so -- until they are soft and gooey, but not dry. The timing depends mainly on the size of the fruits. Larger ones will need longer. When they are ready you can serve them straight away (for instance on top of some mini vol-au-vents, or as an anti-pasti with olives and Italian cold meats) or preserve them for later use by immersing them in a jarful of olive oil. This way they will keep for weeks -- if you can resist them that long. You can even keep them for a few days simply by putting them in an airtight fridge-box. Utterly yummy and highly recommended! Here's a sequence of photos that demonstrates the procedure...

Halve the tomatoes -- horizontally is best, for stability

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, sugar, oil

Top them with herbs or garlic if desired

Cook them gently for an hour or so until they look like this
Keep them in a fridge-box (requires self-discipline) or...
Eat them straight away (better)

All right then, back to gardening... Here are some pictures of a very handsome tomato -- Sungella

Sungella -- moments before harvesting

Sungella -- moments after harvesting

Very soon after this last photo was taken, we sampled the one which I had cut open.  Outdoor tomatoes often have a rather tough skin, (compared with their cosseted hothouse cousins), but Sungella has the least tough skin of any of the varieties I have grown. Its taste is superb as well. I shall definitely grow this one again.

Here are some pictures of Black Cherry. Looks unusual (as if it ought to taste of chocolate), nice texture, very sweet flavour.

Black Cherry, ready for picking
Black Cherry

I'm also just beginning to harvest a few of the Ildi tomatoes. Verdict: OK, (very prolific), looks nice, but not as tasty as Sungella. Tougher skins.

Ildi, nearing ripeness

Ildi -- note the twins at left

These days the mainstay of my tomato crop is Ferline. This is the most blight-resistant variety you can get (which is really the main reason why I grow it, because I have had major problems with blight most years). Even when other varieties succumb, you can count on getting at least SOME yield from Ferline. We love this tomato because it is so versatile. It is superb just on its own -- sliced with some salt, pepper, and olive oil -- or cooked with a few onions and then passed through a sieve to make a "passata" or puree which can be used as the basis for any number of soups or "made-up" dishes.

Ferline approaching readiness

Ferline, top left

Here's a picture of a kitchen gadget that is brilliant in the right circumstances: a Mouli-legumes ("Vegetable mill"). It is exactly perfect for creating a tomato puree. You cook your tomatoes over a low heat until soft. Then you place the Mouli-legumes over the top of a saucepan or bowl, ladle in your cooked vegetables (it's suitable for all sorts of veg, not just tomatoes), turn the handle and Hey Presto it squashes your cooked tomato "mush" and separates the lovely liquid bits from the unattractive pips, skin and fibre. The yummy puree then gets used as the basis for a soup or sauce (particularly good with pasta). You can freeze it if you have too much to use at once. OK, you probably only need a Mouli-legumes for a few weeks in the year, especially when tomatoes are in season, but when you need it nothing else will do. Buy one! (Or put it on your Christmas list...)

The Mouli-legumes

Perhaps the least glamorous, but most productive, of my tomatoes this year is Maskotka. It is a rather unruly bush-type plant best suited to pots or hanging baskets, but it does produce a vast quantity of small regular red fruit. Bigger than cherry types, but not much. This is a variety that goes on producing more and more fruit for weeks and weeks. In size terms, these are perfect for the semi-dried technique described earlier in this article. Taste is good too (ask Lara!) Very highly recommended.

Maskotka on the vine

Maskotka -- harvested

The one variety I have grown this year that I will probably NOT grow again is Currant Goldrush. I only have one plant and it has, to be honest, done well. It has grown to enormous size (I have pruned it quite hard to stop it taking over the whole garden), and produced large numbers of fruit. However the fruits are really disappointing. They look nice -- a lovely golden yellow -- but the skins are incredibly tough, and there is a poor flesh-to-skin ratio. I would say they are useful mainly for "cosmetic" purposes (they look nice in a mixed salad).

Currant Goldrush

Currant Goldrush -- a rather straggly variety!

Currant Goldrush

Ok, now just for the sake of completeness, I must make mention of my last tomato variety -- Wilma. This is a very compact variety ideally suited to growing in containers. It normally reaches about 50cm height. This year I have only one plant of this variety, and it's growing indoors, on my dining-room windowsill. Why? Well, it was my insurance policy against blight. Having had major issues with blight last year, and having lost almost all of my harvest, I decided this year that I would guarantee some sort of a harvest by growing some tomatoes indoors where the blight couldn't get them. The curious irony of this situation is that this year my outdoor crop has done well (and I haven't had any blight at all so far), but my sole Wilma plant has been struck by disease! I don't know what the disease is, but it doesn't seem fatal. Lots of the leaves have gone brown, shrivelled up and fallen off. The fruit however has been OK (though not produced in any great quantity). They are very small red ones -- true cherry toms. Some new leaves have appeared too. Here's a picture of the poor thing (don't laugh...)

Wilma on the windowsill...
Wilma - a few decent fruit, but...

You can see how I have had to support the branches of the plant, which have gone rather gangly -- almost as if they are trying to out-grow the spread of the disease.

The disease that has afflicted poor old Wilma

If this were outdoors, you'd almost say this was blight, but I don't think it is. With blight the leaves go black and soggy, but this disease has made Wilma's leaves go brown and crispy. Any idea what it is?

1 comment:

  1. Happened to see this post now. What a great harvest and what a lovely post! Hope this time's harvest is as good or better.


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