Last of the summer tomatoes

One last tomato sandwich, at least using our home grown tomatoes.

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Tomatoes, finally!

It is quite late for our first tomatoes to be picked. Often we pick in January, but not this year. You can see these have growing scars from the combination of very hot weather then torrential downpours. It’s been very hard to keep a steady watering regime.

Tomatoes still going

We still have tomatoes to harvest. Today we picked several more kilos.

Some are being saved by the easiest method of all – pick, wash and freeze. Just throw them in a bag and put them in the freezer. Then on those cold winter days pull them out of the freezer and put them into your winter soup or stew (and no they can’t be sliced and eaten like fresh tomatoes after freezing).

Over the past few weeks we have been making various cooked tomato products. In the foreground of the photo below, baked tomato passata and behind regular boiled tomato passata.

There remains the prospect of green tomato chutney, a favourite of mine, and our newly discovered ‘explosive mix‘, courtesy of Pietro Demaio – you need to watch past the initial preserved eggplant recipe video to see the ‘explosive mix’ part.

Bean counting!

The front veggie patch in early March

After the rocky start to our summer gardening season, we have by stint of watering, persistant snail removal and good summer rainfall, managed to get our best ever crop of beans! I have picked over 2.5 kilos of beans in the past two weeks and over the same time 4 kilos of tomatoes. 

The same patch today with bountiful tomatoes barely contained in their frames

Apart from eating a goodly amount of beans and tomatoes I am also doing a lot of saving for future meals. The beans are being sliced, blanched and then frozen … 

Beans ready for the frezer

… I am roasting the tomatoes, to concentrate their sweet flavour, before bottling them in sterilised jars for future use. 

Roasted tomatoes in jars from my latest batch
The best thing is there are still  plenty more where they came from.

First tomato! 

Finally one of our new season tomatoes for lunch. Actually the chickens got the first ripe tomato  – it got ‘sunburned’ on one of our really hot days and then started to rot. The girls thought it tasted just fine.

The first tomato of the season, Genuwine tomato, a cross between Brandywine and Costoluto Genovese

This is the first time we have grown this new variety of tomato ‘Genuwine’, which is a cross between Brandywine and Costoluto Genovese. The flavour is definitely there but it’s performance in our hot weather, in the high 30s° C, is still to be proven. One of our bushes is in the full sun and the second plant does get shade in the afternoon. It will be interesting to see how they go against our more traditional varieties Break O’ Day (1932 Australian commercial variety) and Moneymaker (an English heirloom from 1913). We also have a bush of Black Cherry (bred by the late Vince Sapp), and are looking forward to adding these to our salads.

In ground

The tomato harvest continues and this week we picked several of the Soldackis and prepared them for later use. I decided to roast the tomatoes with a bit of olive oil some salt and pepper. A slow cook resulted in two jars of pulp.

Tompulp
Two jars of roasted tomato pulp

To date we have collected nearly 200 saffron flowers or about a gram of the spice. This is our largest harvest to date and we’ve even had to find a larger jar to store the threads in! We still expect to be picking flowers for another week at least.

saffron
A picking of saffron, one of our better day”s harvest

Our chickens are, for the large part, taking it easy. Of the four of them only the smallest new chicken, called Little Frizz, is laying eggs. It seems amazing that this funny little animal is doing all the hard work. I do worry that her poor feather coverage will make winter very hard for her.

LittleFrizz
Little Frizz in the back garden

However it’s not all harvesting around here. Given that “April is for alliums”, as Tino was reminding us on Gardening Australia the other week, TB has been out planting onion seedlings and garlic bulbs. After a week the garlics are just starting to push through the soil and the onions are standing up.

garlic
A garlic shoot just peeping out of the ground

Preservation order

With Autumn in full swing its time to get active in the kitchen, preserving the fruit and vegetables that we’ve grown and foraged over summer.

One of my favourite breakfast spreads is quince jelly flavoured with vanilla. I’m making it with the quinces that I foraged back in March – thankfully for me quinces store very well. I’ve only had to get rid of a few pieces of fruit that had gone bad.

Washing the fuzz off my quinces
Washing the fuzz off my quinces

You will notice that these are not your perfect fruit. Manky quinces make perfectly good jelly because all you need to do is extract the flavour from the fruit. The fruit pulp isn’t included in the final product.

Here’s how I did it. After washing the fuzz off the quinces I cut the fruit up, skin, pips and all, removing any dodgy bits as I went. I then added the juice of one lemon to the cut fruit, covered the fruit with water and brought the mix to the boil. Once the mix was boiling I reduced the heat and allowed the fruit to simmer until it became soft.

Now I drained the liquid from the fruit, straining the juice through a sieve covered with a piece of muslin, to catch any stray pieces of pulp. I chose to hang the fruit in a bag and allowed it to drip overnight. But given that I only extracted about an extra half a cup of juice by doing this I’d say it really wasn’t worth the effort.

The quinces dripping out the last of their juice
The quinces dripping out the last of their juice

The final step of the process was to measure a quantity of sugar that was equal to the amount of liquid – in this case 7 cups of liquid and 7 cups of sugar. To add the finishing touch I cut open and scraped the seeds from a vanilla pod and added both the seeds and the pod to the syrup.

The quince juice, sugar and vanilla start to come together
The quince juice, sugar and vanilla start to come together

This mix is then cooked until the jelly has reached setting point. (If you’re not sure how to judge the setting point you can find a good video guide here).

The heat of the stove creates one last miracle. The hard white flesh of the quince turns a sublime pink. What more could you ask for on your slice of toast!

The finished quince jelly, ready to be served with some of my newest vintage teaspoons
The finished quince jelly, ready to be served with some of my newest vintage teaspoons

The recipe I used is based on the Quince Jelly (2) recipe, from Sally Wise’s book, A Year in a Bottle.