Indulging in the apple of love


August is the month of tomatoes and courgettes glut.  Tomatoes are 'pomodoro' (golden apple) in Italian, which reflects the fact that the first tomatoes to come from the New World were yellow.  At some point in French they were known as 'pommes d'amour' - the apples of love - but the reason for this seems obscure.  Those cheeky French, eh!


Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow, as long as you know what you are doing.  Your first task is to germinate the seeds.  This requires a heat of around 20C.  I've got an electric propagator on a window sill at home and it works hard in the spring on tasks such as this.  I sow the seeds in modules and then transplant them into pots.

Tomatoes are tender and do not like any temperature below 5C.  You have to decide whether to grow them indoors or outdoors.  This means that the timing of your cultivation is crucial.  This year I made the mistake of sowing some tomato seed too early - maybe at the end of February.   They germinated but I couldn't really provide an environment with enough heat and light to bring them on steadily.  A later sowing actually did much better.

Normally tomatoes occupy the middle bed of the polytunnel and I train them up strings.  This is much easier than tying plants to canes.   This year, though, that's exactly what I've had to do as I've moved the tomatoes to the side of the polytunnel for a change.   They like a rich soil, heat, sun and water and, apart from pinching out the side shoots, you just watch then flower and wait for them to ripen.  If I was growing outdoor tomatoes I'd make my own 'grow bag' using feed sacks and place them against a sunny wall.

Ripening Tomatoes

My favourite variety is Gardeners' Delight, which is a small an intensely flavoured.   Ideally I'd just like to walk along the row, picking and eating fruits as I go, just like I do with raspberries. (Botanically speaking tomatoes are fruits but the US Supreme Court has classified them as  a vegetable).  They should be sweet and they should smell of tomatoes, which is something that is not true of a supermarket tomato in December.  (I seriously wonder about the nutrient density of those).  Grilled tomatoes on toast - yum!



In the kitchen very much linked with tomatoes (and particularly in Italian cooking) is Basil, a fragrant herb.  The smell of freshly picked , crushed Basil is unmistakable. Basil is a tender annual and another one of those plants that can be germinated early in the season in a propagator.  Although needing a consistently warm site Basil must not be allowed to dry out.  It works well in window sill containers where it can be give constant attention but it shouldn't  get too much hot sun.  There are many basil cultivars but generally I'm growing Sweet or Genovese Basil and this gives the familiar large sweet leaves.  Some cultivars seem to be quite bitter.


At the risk of sounding like 'Posh Nosh' a tomato, basil and mozzarella salad is one of the simple luxuries of this time of year.

Dealing with the tomato glut

 Faced with a load of perfectly ripe tomatoes the obvious thing to do is to make lots of sauce. This can then be frozen or bottled for use in the dark days of winter.  It's worth knowing that ripe tomatoes have a low acidity.  This makes it risky to bottle them after having simply boiled them.  The reason is that botulism spores are not killed by normal boiling and can remain active in low acid environments, producing very nasty toxins.  One remedy is to increase acidity with vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid (available from pharmacists as long as you can convince them that you are not a coke dealer).  Of course you could make something like chutney, which includes vinegar for acidity. Another remedy is to heat the food to 121C or more, which will kill botulism spores.  This happens to be approximately the temperature achieved in a pressure cooker with 15 lb. weight.

Tomatoes need a long growing season and if time runs out you may find that you are left with a lot of green tomatoes.  Some of these may be ripened on the vine by hanging the plant up in a frost-free place.  Alternatively you can make green tomato chutney, one of the few things my dad ever cooked.