Our tomato crop looked sketchy at the beginning of the season, to say the least. We had very little fruit and what we did have was deformed, contorted and riddled with pests. The fact that we did not want to spray could account for some of our
pests, but as it turns out, there has been more than enough fruit for all of us, bugs included. Today I picked a green tomato just to show you the cheek of this one, obviously very hungry, caterpillar. It didn’t even bother to hide until the camera came out! Aside from caterpillars, we have had slaters inside the fruit as well as a couple of mouse nibbles.
Luckily as the season progressed, things started to look up. Fruit started developing and we were able to beat the pets to most of our crop. We have learnt that tomatoes are not all about perfection, like you see at the supermarket. You win some and you lose some.
After a complete turnaround in our tomato production, we now have a glut of ripe tomatoes. Every day we pick armfuls of tomatoes from the garden, ripening those that need a little extra time on southerly windowsills for a few days before refrigerating them. Once we have enough for twelve jars, we start preserving. Why 12? Because 12 is a full load in the preserving unit.
We found an old Fowlers Vacola unit in a vintage shop a couple of months ago. We knew we would need to preserve fruit and vegetables this year; especially as we were a bit overzealous with our sowings. Not a new model by any stretch of the imagination, but functional nonetheless, we purchased the unit for the bargain price of $20 – a cheap investment for the preservation of our future crops. Luckily we already had a heap of jars, seals and clips.
There is some debate over how to preserve tomatoes – do you leave skins on or off? Whole or diced? We decided as natural as possible was best, so we cut them up and put them straight into the jars, skins and all (and yes – this did also seem to be the easiest method). Add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice and seal. Heat for 45 mins on 92 degrees C and leave to cool for 18 hours before removing the clips. Store in the cupboard away from direct sunlight and heat and use as necessary. We decided not to convert any tomatoes into pasta sauce. By simply bottling them they can be used in all sorts of dishes including pasta, casseroles and curries.
Preserving our own fruit was much more fun than I thought it would be, and it has certainly got us planning our next bottling night! We were a little concerned about the clear looking liquid at the bottom of the bottles, but the Fowlers guide assures us that it just means that we have a good seal. Phew, I’d hate to think we had wasted any of our enormous crop. There is no denying the supreme flavour of home grown tomatoes, and now we will be able to enjoy that flavour all year round … at least that is the plan!