When I was editor of a gardening magazine I found everyone wanted to talk to me about their tomatoes. In summer, they become almost a national obsession with gardeners.
There’s no doubt vine-ripened, freshly picked tomatoes taste fantastic. And in most places Down Under they’re easy to grow. In our part of the country there’s a local rule that decrees no planting out before Melbourne Cup Day (first Tuesday of November) because of the danger of late frost. But apart from that it’s just plant them, give them fertilizer (in our case courtesy of our hens and horses), water them and wait for tomatoes. Oh, and protect them from hungry birds.
|I'd be happy to share with the local bird-life
but they'd scoff the lot if I didn't net my tomatoes!
But for the last three years our crops have been useless: too much rain, not enough rain, whatever the reason the result has been the same—no tomatoes.
That’s why we’re loving the bumper crops this year. The tomatoes have been so abundant we’ve had to look at ways not to waste them. I’ve recently made passata—fresh tomato sauce—and just yesterday tried making semi-dried tomatoes.
|Best Romas I've every grown!
I picked the Roma tomatoes—egg shaped, not as juicy as other varieties.
|Roma's ready to go!
Then I cut them in half, sprinkled with salt, olive oil and thyme from the garden, and cooked them in a slow oven for about three hours until they were crisp around the edges but still soft in the middle.
|They don't look very pretty but the semi-dried tomatoes taste wonderful!
Packed in oil and kept in the fridge they’ll keep for about a month—though I doubt they’ll last that long at our house!
|These will be great in sandwiches, salads, pasta and pizza!
There’s a certain satisfaction in preserving crops from our garden. I’ve made pesto from the basil as well as plum jam this year (for some reason none of our other fruit trees produced anything, unseasonal weather patterns I suspect.)
But I think of our forebears and am so thankful we don’t have to rely on my labour to keep us in fruit and vegetables throughout the year. Harvest time is the hottest time of the year and preserving in a sweltering kitchen isn’t something I’d want to do as anything other than an occasional hobby!
Of course my husband, while enjoying the fruits of my labour, reminds me that with a looming deadline, I should be working on my novel. And that all this tomato preserving is just another form of procrastination!
My next Harlequin Romance Crown Prince’s Chosen Bride is out on March 1. The heroine is a chef turned party planner—and she doesn’t make tomato sauce or plum jam in the story though she does make a wicked white chocolate mud cake…
Do you grow vegetables and/or make preserves or are you quite happy to buy them? Any successes or disasters to recount? I’d love to read your comments!