Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Every year I start plants of both hybrid and heirloom tomatoes. Because the heirlooms are open pollinated you can save the seed for next year's garden but hybrid seeds have to be purchased each year because they won't come true. Since every year is different the tomatoes that do the best each season vary. This particular year, with its sustained sun and minimal rain, seems to have made marked differences between the heirloom and hybrid tomatoes. The only full size hybrids I grew were Beefsteak which seem to pale in taste and texture to the heirlooms. But in the cherry, pear and currant tomatoes the comparison is less marked. The orange hybrid, Sun Sugar, cherry tomato is the sweetest. The heirloom Yellow Pear seems a little mealy and some of the heirloom small tomatoes seem to have been sweeter in previous years.

I should be more organized but I lose track of some of the varieties. Here's a sampling of what I can identify.
A variety of black tomatoes including Japanese Black Trifele  (the triangular ones at the bottom right)

The heirloom, Old German, in top basket, Sun Sugar in the middle basket
Hybrid Juliet tomatoes in the two right baskets
The rather bizarre white heirloom tomato, Ivory Queen, in the top basket , the Mexican Tlacalula below
Heirloom Persimmons in the top and heirloom Black Cherry below

First comes sowing seed, then planting, staking and pruning for best fruiting. And now, what to do with all those tomatoes..... So my kitchens have been very busy processing the past few days.

Juliet tomatoes ready to be oven toasted
The bountiful Juliet tomatoes, an AAS (All American Selection winner) hybrid with a plum shape and texture but smaller than standard roma tomatoes, is ideal for oven roasting. They are cut in half, laid out on a cookie sheet, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and then slowly roasted at 250F for a couple of hours.
After slow roasting some of the moisture has evaporated, concentrating the flavour. They are then packed by the half pound in freezer bags.

I have been using many of the small tomatoes to make ketchup. The recipe is from Jamie Oliver's At Home cookbook. It is sort of laborious and time consuming but the flavour is worth it. The ingredients include the tomatoes and olive oil, celery, red onion, garlic, cloves, coriander seed, basil, salt and pepper. After reducing by half, the mixture is put through a sieve and then brown sugar and vinegar are added. The mixture is reduced again until the proper consistency is reached.

These bottles were made with yellow and orange cherry and pear tomatoes. 

And then finally there is the tomato sauce. I remember a description from one of my favourite books by Wayne Winterrowd with photos by Joe
Eck. A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden. He made it sound like such a nice late summer tradition. While he was lucky enough to have a pottery bowl used exclusively for the annual tradition of making tomato sauce, I use big enamelled cast iron pots. This rough and ready sauce is appealing to me - no boiling the tomatoes to remove the skins or spending time taking out the seeds. You just chop the whole tomato and throw it in the pot.

Heirloom tomatoes are coarsely chopped and to these you add chopped garlic, olive oil and sea salt. Then  roast slowly (about 250F) in the oven - at least two hours will produce a flavourful but somewhat watery sauce. This is good for when you know you'll be cooking the sauce more when it is ready to be used (like in a braise). For a thicker sauce to be heated and thrown over pasta, you simply leave the tomatoes in the oven longer. The top surface roasts turning a lovely brown. It is good to press the tomatoes against the side every once in a while to break them up and release the juices. And then it's time to start canning. I like to make batches of individual types so I have jars of black, yellow, orange and red. I don't think the flavour varies much but they look so nice in jewel tones on the pantry shelf. I also make a separate plum tomato sauce for chili.

We always aspire to make at least 50 jars. I'm not sure we've ever made it but I think chances are pretty good this year! 

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