A succession of Atlantic depressions with accompanying heavy grey skies, squalls and westerly gales have done little to enlighten the short days of November. So I have had to admit defeat, cut down the tomato vines and gather the remaining crop of hard green fruits. Although I usually produce a good crop of tomatoes, some years the plants seem reluctant to flower and slow to set and ripen fruit. This summer was good by Hebridean standards, so I must admit at least partial culpability, as I was late in sowing my seeds.
I have already turned 4kg of green tomaoes into chutney and at least an equal amount into soup and pasta sauce. So what now? For the past month the window sills have been festooned with bowls of tomatoes. Not exactly prize winning specimens, but too good for the compost.
A surprising proportion have ripened, turning from acid green to pale yellow and eventually to a glowing orange, but never aspiring to the deep rich red of an Italian plum tomato. Roasting with a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper and a gulg of good olive oil, concentrates the flavour and transform the insipid flavour of a slightly under ripe fruit into a lumpy pulp with an interesting piquancy. It does not have the sweetness and depth of flavour of a fruit ripened in the sun on the vine, rather a delicate citrus acidity. This is perfect for balancing the earthy flavours of lentil or bean soups or cutting the oiliness of fish such as mackerel.
As for the rest, I think they are destined for another batch of chutney. For a little variety, I might change the spice mix, add some grated ginger, a soupçon of Aleppo pepper or light sprinkle of Urfa chilli flakes. Whilst I’m chopping vegetables and fruit, I must give some serious consideration to reducing the number and varieties of tomatoes plants I grow. After all there are only so many jars of chutney we can eat and a limit to how many I can give away. 2017 was a vintage chutney year, which is a good thing as we are still eating it! The store room shelves are groaning under the weight of the 2018 and 2019 editions, not to mention the red currant relish and the marmalade. Perhaps it is time to cut back, or maybe try something new – pickled fennel, beetroot relish and I’ve never tried making sauerkraut!
Now if the harvest is over, And the world cold, Give me the bonus of laughter,A Nip in the Air – John Betjeman