Every Christmas Our John studies the seed catalogues, makes lists, loses the lists, makes more lists, studies more catalogues then finally orders piles of tomato seeds. He orders all kinds of other seeds as well but the tomato for him is the Major Crop. This is the mans plant. A man’s munch. In late February when the weather outside has been sub-zero for weeks and our lives have become frigid sepia, he snuggles his seeds into tiny pots and the trays sit by the fire to germinate. Then into the garden window. I call him crazy starting so early and he says you’ll see. His aim is to eat one of his own tomatoes on the Fourth of July. This is The Matriarchs aim too so there is always a not so light-hearted rivalry each year.
As the winter grinds along the plants out-grow the window, like snails they exchange their little pots for bigger pots and begin to creep across the floors of the house chasing the sun from the skylights. Woe betide any plant that dares to become leggy. During the very early days of spring when the temps rise slightly every damn plant is carted outside for some sunning and then hauled back into the house every evening when the temps drop again.
He turns piles of compost. Then won’t share it. Carefully creating the huge perfect tomato beds. Tomatoes are hungry plants evidently.
Once the plants are in the ground, with a clay tile placed around each one, staked and with cages in the wings, they are watered and heaped with more well-rotted delicious smelling compost to keep down the weeds. If a frost threatens he is out there covering his wee babies with blankies. I raise my eyebrows and he says you’ll see.
Then we wait. We do not buy out of season tomatoes. So this really is a terrible wait. We are getting desperate for a tomato. He waters and waits. Then waters some more and waits some more. And yes every year by the Fourth of July he seems able to coax one or two tomatoes to red juicy deliciousness. Usually Prairie Fire. They are tiny plants that come and go very fast and fruit early. We sit in the sun and eat them like apples. It is joy. And yes I do see.
So the tomatoes begin to trickle in, then they roll in like a leap tide, then there is a flood and soon the harvest reaches cataclysmic proportions that I am so grateful for in the winter but not so much today. The verandah has baskets of them in various stages of ripeness waiting their turn in the kitchen. My larder and freezer are groaning under the weight of tomatoes put down, put up and sent sideways, I am nagging for more shelves in the basement, our friends are carting away bags of them, I am trolling the internet for recipes. ( Here are this weeks favorites.)
tomato conserva If you have a day at home, go for it, the results are fantastic. I am making jars of this .. it is divine.
tomato pie A new one for us but tasty and quick.
Insalata: slices of ripe warm freshly picked tomato, slices of good mozarella cheese and ripped basil. Arrange on a plate. Drizzle a little really good olive oil on top. EAT! I ate this every day in Italy with locally made cheese. Just pure simple love on a plate.
Any tomatoes that are not perfect – well the cows and chooks have them thrown over their fences every day like edible missiles.
At dinner time we quite decadently cut hug-sized slices of our favourite variety of the day for our plates. We only choose the really meaty center slice and we are so spoilt we throw the rest into the chook bucket. Our chins run with the juice. It is a feast.
So while we are in full swing I will introduce you to the Our Johns Four Favourites of 2012. These seeds were purchased online from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Purple Cherokee has been by far the best producer this year. Medium size fruit. Sweet and juicy, peels easily. Good sized plants. This is already on the list for next year. Top for yield.
Yellow Mortgage Lifter. Johns current favorite to eat with his dinner. It fruits mid season. Medium sized. Certainly the best tastiest yellow tomato he has grown.
Brandy Wine. Our Johns old favorite. My favorite for sauce. This tomato is a huge fruit from an enormous plant. You have to drop in boiling water before peeling though. Tough skinned. Ripens mid season. Average producers but good heavy fleshy fruit.
My favorite. This is the one I pan fry in butter every morning and eat with basil for my breakfast. It is a large tomato, good yield and ripens mid season. Holds its shape in salads. The one in the shot is a little unripe, when good and ripe the flesh is a lovely dark red. I use this one in the insalata.
Talking of mozarella and tomatoes reminds me of a recipe given to me by a lovely Italian woman when I was on the Amalfi coast. I will write it up for you tomorrow. I do not know its name but it is quite divine.
See you then