Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ode to the English tomato

Tomato in planter, August 2016
Oh tomatoes.  Every year I swear I'll give them up, and every year I grow them once more.  The English summer is inhospitable to this lovely rosy fruit.

How I long for jars gleaming red in the pantry;  or stacks of little ruby husks, dried to chewy perfection.  Instead, I have solid green globes--inflexibly green, drooping from stems, refusing to redden, even in the (unseasonably) not-cold, not-rainy end of summer.

When I was a child, I remember taking a giant mixing bowl into the garden in the mornings and filling it to the brim with tomatoes as big as my hand.  We ate so many fresh--I liked them best with black pepper--but most went into stacks of jars.  It was hot work boiling them to remove skins, stuffing them into the jars and then simmering away, half a dozen at a time in the big canning pot.  We made plain bottled tomatoes to begin with, and then in later years branched out to pizza sauce and salsa.  How beautiful those jars looked, lined up on the closet shelves we used as a pantry.

Never, in my 13 years living in England, have I collected enough ripe tomatoes to make even one jar.  I once made three (very) small jars of green tomato relish, a gem of a recipe from The Joy of Cooking, but even that resulted from the end of season, gathered-the-night-before-first-frost harvest.

Last year I collected one or two fresh red tomatoes per week from September to Christmas.  The plants were grown in a raised bed on my patio, up against my south-facing house wall.  I collected seed from these tomatoes, to carry on the line this year.  True, this year's tomatoes hang heavy and full on the plants.  They look plump and beautiful, and the plants strong.  But still green.  I suppose I can resign myself to a (very) small line of green jars in my pantry.

(I did manage to harvest three last week)

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