It’s all about tomatoes this time of year! I’m in my element gathering every day from my different tomato plants – eager for each new cultivar to ripen so that I can enjoy it’s shape, colour and of course, taste test. So far my most…
This is my go-to sauce. It is simple, allowing the gorgeous taste of the heirloom tomatoes to shine. It's got no added sugar, and just a dash of balsamic for an added depth of flavour. It still preserves well because of the natural acidity of the tomatoes. I think the original recipe said it can last for 3 months in the refrigerator, but that was without using a canner/processor, which I did this time, so I'm sure it will last longer.
Reduced to a rich and semi-thick sauce, this makes an excellent base for pasta sauces, such as bolognaise, or for adding to soups and stews. We even use it as a pizza base sauce.
- 5kg heirloom tomatoes, skinned and deseeded
- 12 - 18 cloves of garlic
- two bunches of fresh herbs (e.g. basil or oregano)
- 3 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 2/3 cup Olive oil
- Drop the heirloom tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes, and then into an ice bath to split the skins so that they can peel of easily (once cooled)
- De-seed the tomatoes as well as you can, reserving any juices
- Chop the tomatoes in your food processor.* This time I had a food mill to do steps 2 and 3 for me, and although churning the mill was still hard work, it was far less of a mission than the manual process I did last year!
- Add the juice and chopped tomatoes (I ended up with just over 3l of tomato) to a heavy pot or jam pan (I'm so super lucky to have a brand new maslin pan to my collection for this year's preserving missions!) and add the crushed garlic cloves.
- Add the olive oil and bring it all to a boil, boiling for 5 minutes
- Reduce heat and simmer for around 2 hours, or until the sauce is thickening up, and the olive oil and tomato sauce separates. At this point my sauce reduced to around 1.8l
- Add the herbs, balsamic vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper
- Bring back to the boil for around 5 minutes.
- Pour into sterilized jars and continue with canning, or refrigerate after cooling.
The story of the shapes and sizes of tomatoes
There’s beefsteak tomatoes, and then there’s a tomato cultivar called Beefsteak, which is, unsurprisingly a beefsteak type. So when a customer asks me for a beefsteak tomato, and I say “Sure, which one?”, I fully understand the confusion that creases their foreheads… This naming and describing of tomatoes business can get quite bewildering.
And there seems to be very little standard across seed merchants, and tomato growers, and plant catalogues. Reading tomato shape and size descriptions can be very entertaining – I’ve read about tomatoes that are bomb-shaped, multi-ruffled, or blocky… You could get down-right scientific about it – but I’ve found that, for the most part, home gardeners, and even market gardeners and horticulturists who specialize in vegetables don’t really want to get too involved in the genetic basis of fruit morphology.
But if you want to – here’s a link to Researchgate on the topic.
So what makes a beefsteak, a beefsteak?
Let’s talk locules – I promise I won’t get too scientific – simply put locules are the seed cavities of tomatoes. When you cut through a stock-standard globe tomato from the supermarket, you get a lot of seed and seed gel in two or more well-defined locules (see picture attached). When you cut through a beefsteak tomato however, you get lots of meaty tomato flesh, and a large number of smaller, unevenly distributed locules, mostly between the inner and outer flesh of the tomato. Beefsteaks are also normally larger tomatoes, often one slice being enough to fill a sandwich. Their main claim to fame however is their really good flavour (like most heirlooms) – whether it is sweet and citrus-like in yellow ones, or deep and complex in purples and browns, or simply “full of bold taste” in pink and red ones. They remain a favourite with many tomato growers.
A list of shapes and sizes
This then is my list of descriptions and names for the different shapes and sizes of tomatoes, and is what I use to talk about my tomatoes. From small to large:
- Currant (sometimes spelled current) – these are tiny and round, about thumbnail size tomatoes, often borne in amazing abundance. They are often called wild tomatoes and come in reds and yellows.
E.g. Little Red Currant Tomato
- Cherry – these are cocktail size tomatoes, often referred to as snack or lunchbox tomatoes. They are small and round and come in a range of colours.
E.g. Riesentraube (red), Tiny Tim (red), White Cherry (ivory), Orange Bourgeoin (orange), Frosted Doctor’s Green (green) and Black Cherry (brown-black)
- Grape – these are small, often grouped with cherry tomatoes as snack/cocktail type tomatoes, but they are more grape or oval shaped than round. As with the cherries, they come in a variety of colours.
E.g. Green Grape, Sunny Grape
- Pear – these are also under cocktail or snack tomatoes and are a similar size as the cherry and grape tomatoes, but are pear-shaped.
E.g. Red Pear, Yellow Pear
Note – there’s big pear tomatoes too, see below.
- Plum – these tomatoes are oblong and plum-shaped, and are also called cylindrical or roma tomatoes. They are still considered small tomatoes, although they’re much bigger than cherry or grape tomatoes. Often they only have two locules and are quite meaty and are favoured for making pastes and sauces.
E.g. Roma VF, San Marzano and Amish Paste, Purple Russian
- Sausage – these are similar to plum tomatoes, but are longer in shape – forming a sausage-like fruit. They are also good for sauces and pastes, but are also often sliced lenghtways to add interest to salads and sandwhiches.
E.g. Green Sausage, Banana Legs, Orange Banana, Casady’s Folly
- Pear – these are slightly larger than plum tomatoes, and have a distinct pear-shape, with a fatter bottom and narrower top.
E.g. Black Pear and New Zealand Pink Pear
Note – there’s small (cocktail size) pear tomatoes too, see above.
- Heart – small tomatoes with a pointy end, somewhat resembling a heart.
E.g. Wolford’s Wonder Tomato and Grightmire’s Pride
- Globe – these are “typical” round tomatoes – they are smaller than beefsteaks, but larger than cocktail tomatoes. They have distinct seed cavities (locules) in the centre of the tomato. Sometimes referred to as standard, round, or salad (saladette) tomatoes. Most commonly used sliced for for salads or sandwhiches.
E.g. Patio, Garden Peach, Moneymaker, Jaune Flamme
- Ox-heart – large and meaty tomatoes, often with the typical beefsteak appearance, but with the outer tomato shaped like a large heart.
E.g. Cuor di Bue, Orange Russian and Anna Russian
- Beefsteak – the larger of the tomatoes, with meaty flesh and numerous smaller locules spread through the fruit. Most beefsteaks are round to flattened globe in shape, and can vary from smooth to ribbed (Costoluto Genovese).
E.g. Orange Beefsteak, Marmande, and Purple Cherokee
Naturally, I’m sure there’s some more shape descriptions, and I am also sure that not everyone will agree with me on my list above. The fun thing is, you can get quite poetic about your tomatoes, just trying to describe what colours they are, and what shape the fruits take… never mind when you eventually slice through them and taste them!
More on Tomatoes
Indeterminate vs Determinate Tomatoes come in two growth habit types – determinate, or bush varieties, and indeterminate or vining varieties. DICTIONARY: Growth habit of a plant in horticulture refers to the shape, height, form, and general appearance of a plant species. Basically answering the question…
Welcome to the first in a series of All Things Tomato Have you browsed your seed catalogs and seen little tags next to plant names saying “F1 Hybrid” or “Open Pollinated”? Have you been told by farmer’s market salesmen about their tomatoes only being “heirlooms”?…
Welll, two weeks in retrospect actually –
It is definitely gearing up to be spring, and I see my productivity double around the garden from week to week now. It is a gorgeous time to get ready for the new growing season!
In my garden
I have enjoyed seeing more and more of the new life of plants burst forth on dormant perennials. Little bare patches of soil suddenly sport a bit of green, or red, as the stems and first leaves push through – specifically excited to see liquorice, marshmallow, echinacea, rhubarb, horseradish and even a few of my French tarragon come along.
The fruit trees are budding too – my pomegranate, apricot, fig, etc are all happily budding too. I acquired two new apple trees! Which is very exciting! They are dwarf ones – a red and sweetly crunchy medium apple called Little Rascal and another that is more tart in flavour, called Mischief. I’m excited to see how they go. Currently they are still “sticks in the ground”, but soon they’ll have a flush of pretty white and pink blossoms. Very tempted to go back and get two columnar standard crabapples…
I’ve managed to procure 11 bags of good horse manure – gorgeous stuff that is full of earthworms. I’m adding them to my raised vegetable gardens as I get ready to plant them all up for summer again. Already have layers of cardboard, some sticks, homemade compost, seaweed, and some of last year’s soil – now the horse manure goes on top for a week or so, and then a bokashi trench throughout the raised bed, and again a final layer of soil. That should do the trick!
In my knowledge base
I heard and discussed interesting things this past few weeks too – I learnt about watering in an arc which makes the correct charge for ions for better watering results, rather than watering straight down into the ground. Still going to see if I can find out more on this so I can understand the science around it better. Then I had a lovely discussion with my friend, about soil health, and how even organically managed soil, might not be all it is made out to be – that compost has a lot going for it, but that it isn’t all there is to building good soil, soil that will have the required minerals for the produce plants to take up and make available for consumption. Some case studies around this that I’ll delve into deeper, but it is all good food for thought.
In the nursery
It’s been go! go! go! in the nursery! Sowing new seeds, and transplanting little seedlings.
I transplanted almost all of my little tomato seedlings (germinated with their first leaves showing) into larger seedling trays with deep punnet sections for good root development. They are all doing really well, despite me starting them much earlier than normal. I’ll sow some more next week, especially of the popular varieties as I found I had long ago sold out of my tomatoes last year while people were still after some for mid to later season growing.
All the varieties of heirloom tomatoes that I grow are not the only things I’m gaga about – I got even more new chillies to try this season too! The different sizes, shapes, colours and heat levels of the peppers make me super excitable! Brand new for this year are Aji Dulce, Jamaican Yellow, and Passilla biajo. And, because they turned out to be so popular last season, I got lots of super hots in too, more Red Naga, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, and Carolina Reaper. If you ever wondered what happened to my soaking chilli seeds experiment – more on that next week.
Sow your own
It is prime sowing time, with spring and milder weather just around the corner, and if you plant with a moon calendar, from 24 August to 6 September is best for cultivating above ground food crops. While it is still advisable to hold of for a few weeks until the soil warms up properly, if you have a greenhouse, or any warm and sheltered area like a sunny windowsill, you can start most of your herbs, and summer vegetables now. Among what feels like a million other things, I have sown cucumbers, caigua, zucchini, corn, eggplant, and even a few pumpkins in seedling trays.
A lot of herbs can be sown now too – anise hyssop, angelica, basil, borage, calendula, catnip, chamomile, chervil, chives, coriander, cress, dill, fennel, hyssop, marjoram, oregano, peppermint, rocket, rue, salad burnet, savory, sage, thyme, valerian… etc.
Unfortunately it has been a terribly good time for snails in the garden too – and I battle with them decimating every and all of my sunflowers, sweet peas, every bit of oriental lily coming out, and of course, in the nursery too – they seem to have a super liking to lettuce leaf basil (not so much cinnamon or lemon basil), and all my new spinach seedlings.
I’ve got a few things I try to help minimize their damage – egg shells and sand around new transplanted little plants. And seaweed (unrinsed) scattered about. I’ve also got beer traps (happy that Rick 3D printed me a slug trap to put it into), and I go out every few nights to do a hand pick of as many snails and slugs as I can find (lots!). I have recently heard from a friend that iron phosphate may help – something I need to investigate and try out.
We had great early spring weather, with one or two hot days already. And it is tempting, very tempting to go out and put it all to the garden. But yesterday was cold and windy and I was glad my summer veg were still under cover. Remember that it is important to check several things before deciding to plant outside – your region’s last frost date, cold pockets in your own micro-environment, sunrise and elevation, overnight minimimum temperatures (minimum of around 12C for a few nights in a row will indicate that the soil will be sufficiently warm) and the appearance of self-sown spring annuals, and breaking of dormancy in perennials. Don’t be tempted to go out too early.
Things I used out of the garden this week
A cup each of mixed greens daily for the guinea pigs, bunnies and quail – this includes fennel, dill, lemon balm, salad burnet, lettuce, kale, mizuna, viola and nasturtium flowers, and thyme or oregano.
Calendula petals and heartsease viola flowers go into salads, which are made up of rocket, salad burnet, mizuna, nz spinach, baby silverbeet leaves, freckles lettuce and chives.
Fresh Rosemary, oregano and bay leaf went into bolognaise sauce.
The kids eat Carouby peas fresh from the plant.
I picked pizza thyme for pizza.
If you’ve been interested in healing herbs, or alternative medicine, you probably have heard that Echinacea is good for supporting your immune system, and perhaps you even know that a sage or thyme gargle can combat sore throats, and soothing peppermint can relieve congestion. Whether…