End of the Tomato Season

OK, so that’s it, the season has ended. The last of the tomatoes were picked yesterday, the plants removed and today was spent tidying and sweeping to make sure that everything is neat and tidy for the winter.

The total crop wasn’t that large (about 40kg) from about 30 different cultivars. I didn’t spend as much time as I have in previous years sorting them out so the greenhouses got to be a bit of a mess really.

I suppose I could choose varieties that grow more weight of tomatoes but I grow for a combination of interest, taste and variety. This year, most of what I grew came from a seed swap and I’ve saved seed so I can grow them again next year (if I want). My plan has always been to find enough varieties that I like so that I can cover all the colours and sizes with tomatoes that taste nice in salads, sandwiches and cooked.

If you look at my list, you’ll see that over the years I’ve grown a total of about 160 varieties and I’m always on the lookout for new, non F1 hybrid, varieties out of the 6000 or so that I’ve seen listed around the Web.

So, what did well and what did badly. Let’s start with the good news:

I loved Darby Striped, smaller than most of the red/yellow striped tomatoes and with less definition in the stripes but it had a rich flavour and cropped reasonably well so that goes on the list for futures.

Carotina was a good orange small beefsteak (similar to Jubilee and Moonglow) but was possibly edged out on the flavour stakes by Big Rainbow although that’s very similar to Marvel Stripes and possibly won’t quite make the cut. If I want a small orange beefsteak, its Moonglow or Jubilee although they both give way to my favourite tomato of all – Summer Cider.

Jaune Flamme is probably also a keeper, I don’t think there’s anything quite the same. Its a mid-sized orange tomato but the flesh is nearer red and its pretty sweet although its got an acid background.

Large Pink Bulgarian was an odd (heart) shaped large Pink tomato, but there are lots of similar things out there which don’t suffer from damage in quite the same way so, they go further down the list of things to grow.

Finally there’s Pink Tiger, one of the Artisan set of tomatoes with a strange shape but excellent flavour. The right size and shape to attract youngsters (grandchildren) to think outside the box of round, red tomatoes. That goes on the list but has to go up against Blush from the same family that we grew last year.

Then we get to the “won’t grow again” list which starts with Peacevine. This rambled all over the greenhouse, getting in the way. It was too small to pick sensibly and split as soon as look at you. Whilst I’m still looking for a pea sized tomato, this isn’t it. The pea sized ones seem to be too thin skinned to pick sensibly.

On the list for a different reason goes Gazzi Yellow Egg, it split all the time but did at least seem to heal. Orange Banana is up for question because it got Blossom End Rot badly, as did White Zebra. I don’t know if it was the season or the variety so I might give them both a second chance – they both had reasonable taste but not much in the way of crop.

Then there’s the “don’t really know” list in which I find Taiko (yellow, plum but a bit floury), Green Velvet (more difficult – looks fun but don’t cook with it it sends the sauces a funny colour), Vince (too dry – who needs a bell-pepper shaped tomato), Lima Korai, Radana, Halina, etc., all of which were pretty forgetful.

So, another year over and three or four tomatoes rising up the list. Have to wait and see what comes in this years swap to see how much space I’ve got to add to the list.

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Recipe: Pasta Free Lasagna

This recipe replaces the lasagna sheets with sliced courgettes and beef tomatoes. The meat sauce can be used in lots of other recipes. Its our development of what started life as a much more "chefy" recipe which involved lots of other stages.

As ever, items in italics are from our garden.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 2 beef tomatoes (we used green velvet and pink Bulgarian but to be honest any beef tomatoes would do)
  • 1 Large Courgette
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp home made tomato puree
  • 1 large Carrot
  • Sprig of Rosemary
  • 250g beef mince
  • 1-2 large onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 stick celery
  • 100-200g mushrooms cut into fork sized pieces
  • dried oregano
  • 1/2tbsp caraway seeds
  • 100g grated mozzarella
  • 10g grated parmesan
  • 100g ricotta
  • 250ml beef stock
  • We served with roasted cauliflower but you can choose what you'd like to serve it with.
Pink Bulgarian and Green Velvet Tomatoes for Lasagna

Method

  1. Slice the courgette finely at an angle, slice the beef tomatoes, finely dice the carrots, onions and celery;
  2. Grate the garlic (or use pre-grated), finely chop the rosemary;
  3. Saute the onions witha little oil in a large non-stick frying pan until they're soft (about 10 minutes);
  4. Add the beef mince and brown it all over;
  5. Add the garlic, carrots & celery and cook for about 5 minutes then add the caraway seeds, tomato puree, beef stock, tomatoes, herbs & mushrooms, season with ground pepper and simmer for about half an hour until the sauce has thickened.
  6. In a separate oven proof dish on top of baking parchment, layer the courgettes, tomatoes, season with pepper and dot the ricotta in amongst the tomatoes. Scatter the mozzarella and parmesan over the top and put into a pre-heated oven at 180C and bake for about 35 minutes or until it is brown.
  7. Spoon the meat sauce into dishes, top with the browned topping and serve with whatever veg you want.

Whilst the topping is separate from the sauce and they haven't cooked together, this has the advantage that if (when) there's too much sauce, you can keep it in the fridge to use another day.

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Recipe: Salmon, Leeks & Tomatoes

This is a quick cooked tasty serving of salmon.

As ever, items in italics are from our garden.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 200g cherry tomatoes
  • 2x skinless salmon fillets (140g each)
  • 350g finely sliced leeks
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1xtbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1xtbsp honey
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Vegetables & Carbohydrates to serve

Method

  1. Put the leeks into a tray that can be cooked in the oven and microwaved with a small amount of water. Cover with cling film and put it into the microwave for a couple of minutes on high. Then leave to stand for about a minute.
  2. Whilst this is doing, whisk the oil, mustard & lemon juice and season with a little freshly ground pepper making a sauce.
  3. Remove the cling film from the leeks and put the tomatoes in with the leeks. Add the salmon fillets and pour over the sauce.
  4. Put the tray into the oven at about 180C and cook until the salmon is cooked but not overcooked (about 10 minutes)
  5. Serve with whatever vegetables and carbohydrates you like making sure you use all the juices.
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A Walk at Attenborough Nature Reserve – Fish

We went out on a walk this afternoon (we’re trying to up our paces as part of our get fitter campaign). As well as the usual sightings of a collection of water birds, we saw something I’ve never seen before.

As we went over the first of the bridges over the water on our way, we noticed large numbers of fish. The picture doesn’t do them justice, it shows a patch about 2 meters wide,  but if you can imagine a 10m wide channel solid with fish of a range of sizes as far as the eye can see forwards and backwards from the bridge, that’s what there was.

To the shallow side of the gap were small fish (3-4cm long) and, as the water got deeper across the gap, so the fish got larger up to 15cm I would guess. I have no idea what sort of fish they are, nor why they should be there but, it was quite astounding, something I’ve never seen before and which explains how the diving birds (cormorants, grebes and herons for example) survive in the area.

As we walked around and went back over another bridge into the car park, there were fish again. Not as large a shoal and without the range of sizes but nonetheless a significant number of fish. Whether they are always there and we just happened to notice them, I don’t know but I’ll certainly look again next time.

Fish of all sizes

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Recipe: Sweet & Sour Vegetables with Turkey Balls

Sweet & sour sauce will go with most things but we like to cook it with a lot of vegetables and have a little meat to go with it. These turkey mince balls are tasty and easy to make.

As ever, items in italics are from our garden.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 200g tomatoes
  • 50g carrots
  • 30g french beans
  • 1 medium courgette
  • 250g turkey mince (we use thighs & breast mixed)
  • 1 inch piece of ginger pealed & grated
  • 1/3 tsp ground cinamon
  • 1 garlic clove (we use 1/2 tsp prechopped)
  • 1 tbsp cornflour (or more to thicken)
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 4 pineapple slices (tinned)
  • 25-40 ml pineapple juice
  • 1 small onion
  • 1-2 peppers
  • Rice to serve (decide how much you want)
Sweet & Sour Vegetables with Turkey Mince Balls

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C
  2. Put the rice on to cook (however you would normally cook rice)
  3. Chop the onion into large(ish) pieces & cut the carrot into thick(ish) rounds and all the other vegetables into fork sized pieces.
  4. Mix the mince, half the ginger & all the cinnamon in a bowl, mix together & make into 6 - 8 small balls. Put them on a lightly oiled baking tray and put them in the oven to cook for around 20 minutes.
  5. At the same time:
    1. Put the Onions in a frying pan with a spray of oil and cook for about 8 minutes until softened.
    2. Skin the tomatoes and whizz them up to make a sauce
    3. Put the cornflour into a jug and add some of the vinegar to make a paste, then add the pineapple juice, 25ml water, garlic, chilli sauce, tomatoes & remaining vinegar. There should be 250-300ml liquid but it doesn't matter if there's more or less.
    4. When the onions are soft, add the carrots, peppers, french beans, courgettes and any other vegetables you've chosen to add and fry for a further five minutes or so.
    5. Add the tomatoes and another 100ml or so of water and simmer until the carrots are tender and the other vegetables cooked.
    6. Depending on how much liquid you have at this point, you may want to add some more cornflour to thicken or keep boiling it until it thickens.
  6. Add the pineapple and the meatballs and cook for a futher five minutes or so until the meatballs are cooke through.
  7. Serve with the rice

As we said, this sauce goes well on its own or with any meat, sausages, chicken, etc.. It doesn't take too long to make and is easily multiplied if you're cooking for a larger number.

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Recipe: Hot Sausage Salad

During summer and early autumn, there's a lot of salad greens growing in the garden. Using them in "ordinary" salads eventually gets boring however, this warm salad is an easy delicious improvement.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 10  (or more) cherry tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • cucumber
  • 200g sausages (we use gluten free)
  • 1 x avocado
  • 1tbsp wine vinegar (red or white)
  • 1/2 tbsb brown sugar
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/2 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • bread roll to serve
  • optionally other salad bits (pepper, celery, radishes, etc.)

Method

  1. Cut the sausages into bite sized pieces;
  2. Spray some olive oil (or other cooking oil) into a frying pan and toss in the chopped onion & sausage pieces, frying briefly until browned and the onion is soft;
  3. Add the mustard, cherry tomatoes and sugar and keep frying until the tomatoes start to split and everything is coated in mustard;
  4. In a salad bowl, make a salad with the lettuce leaves, cucumber & other salad bits;
  5. Peel, stone & slice the avocado
  6. Tip the hot sausage mix onto the salad;
  7. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and a little water & pour it over the salad (the lettuce will wilt a little but that's what you want);
  8. Mix the salad, sausages, etc. in the salad bowl and serve
  9. Put the avocado on top of the salad (you can mix it in but we find it gets squashed)

There you are, a tasty slightly different but simple salad.

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Tomato Problems: Blossom End Rot

Blossom End Rot
White Zebra with Blossom End Rot
Orange Banana
Kibits Ukranian

If you've got tomatoes that look like the above pictures, you've got Blossom End Rot.

Now, this isn't a disease or insect damage or anything terrible like that but its to do with the way you've been treating your plants and is recoverable so don't despair.

The actual cause is lack of calcium but what you've probably done wrong is uneven watering. I don't know why but tomatoes like to be watered evenly throughout the season, keeping them damp down to a depth of about six inches is what you're trying to achieve. In fact you're best to water them from below, encouraging roots to grow as deep as possible (but of course you can't do that if you're growing in the greenhouse border or growbags which is why I tend to grow in pots filled with growbag compost).

Different varieties are more susceptible and we've found that long, paste, Italian varieties are more likely to succumb than round and beefsteak varieties (however, as you can see from the pictures above, we had problems with White Zebra in 2018).

As well as uneven watering, there is a suggestion that putting the plants out in cold soil could contribute to the problem so it will probably go away later on in the season.

There isn't a lot you can do about it, try to make sure that you are watering evenly, throw the affected fruit away and hope for the best.

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2018 – Mid September Update

Greenhouse 1
Greenhouse 2

So, here we are in the middle of September, the days are beginning to get shorter and (this year at least) the tomatoes are starting to slow down. So far may greenhouses have produced about 26kg of tomatoes, a mixture of all sorts and colours and I've been reasonably pleased.

Many of the tomatoes are in the freezer chopped ready to supply us through the winter although many have been eaten as we go with a mixture salads and cooking.

For whatever reason, many of this years tomatoes are paste varieties which don't taste as nice unless they are cooked although we've had plenty of cherry tomatoes (mainly yellow) and a good crop of various beefsteak varieties (of which I think my favourite ones are Moonglow and Big Rainbow).

If you look at the pictures, you'll see that the greenhouses aren't very tidy. This year I haven't bothered to grow the plants as a single cordon just putting strings around to hold the plants back to the walls. It seems to have worked fine but I think that the warm (hot & sunny) weather has contributed. Had it been cooler and damper, my guess is that I would have had Blight at some stage.

I have had quite a bit of Blossom End Rot but its been concentrated on a few varieties (Orange Banana, White Zebra, Zhefen Short) and the others have been reasonably free. However, I have had some splitting in the cherry tomatoes (Peacevine have been the worst) so they've either had to be thrown away or cooked.

It will be interesting to see how long they go on cropping.

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Recipe: Roast Vegetables & Salmon

I love tray bakes, they're simple and (usually) just need you to put it all together and leave it alone. This recipe isn't quite that simple but takes about 40 minutes from start to finish.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 100g (or more) cherry tomatoes
  • 1 large courgette
  • 60g (or more) french beans
  • 2 peppers ( 1 red, 1 yellow) for the colour
  • 2 x 140g skinned salmon fillets
  • 25g pitted black olives
  • 1-2tsp chopped garlic
  • 1/2tsp herbs de provence
  • 1tsp oregano
  • olive oil spay
  • other vegetables if you want (we add things like cauliflower, broccoli, etc. depending on what's available and will cook consistently)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C
  2. Chop the onion, garlic, peppers, courgettes and add to the roasting tray with the herbs. Season (we don't use salt) and spray with a little oil.
  3. Mix it all together and put it into the oven for about 20 minutes until the vegetables seem cooked but not too soft
  4. Cut the other vegetables into bite sized pieces and boil them until nearly cooked (say 5-10 minutes)
  5. Take the baking tray out of the oven and add the salmon fillets, cooked vegetables and cherry tomatoes. Spray a little more oil
  6. Put it all back in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until the salmon is cooked.

There you are, done with minimal amount of effort serve with rice if you want.

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Recipe: Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

Whilst this recipe doesn't include tomatoes (or in fact anything we commonly grow) its extremely simple, filling and cheap. We make it and have it two days running although you can freeze it if you want.

Ingredients

  • Butternut Squash (1kg makes a generous four helpings)
  • 2 Onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1tbs coriander seeds
  • 2tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli (more or less to taste)
  • 1ltr chicken or vegetable stock
  • 4 rashers smoke bacon (to decorate)
Butternut Squash Soup Decorated with bacon

Method

  1. Get out your slow cooker and assemble
  2. Peel & chop the butternut squash into 1-2 cm cubes add to the cooker
  3. Peel & chop the onion add to the cooker
  4. Grind the spices - add to the cooker
  5. Crush the garlic & add to the cooker
  6. Put enough vegetable stock to cover the rest of the ingredients in the cooker
  7. Set the cooker on high for 3-4 hours at the end check that the squash is soft & cooked
  8. Whizz it all up with a stick blender until smooth
  9. Fry the bacon & chop into bite sized pieces (you can do this at any time the bacon doesn't have to be hot

There you are, done with minimal amount of effort serve with bread, toast or anything you like. If you want it spicier, add some Tabasco sauce when you serve, this has the advantage that you can make it differently spicy depending on how people like it.

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