I planted a lot of tomatoes this year. Far too many. There are around 40 plants crammed into growbags in my polytunnel, all at various stages of ripeness. It happens every year - I get so excited drooling over the seed catalogues in the Winter, and no sooner has a new calender been pinned to the wall - than the propagator is dusted down and plugged in. Well, slight exaggeration, but not much.
I dream of Summer evenings sitting down (outside, of course) to salads of huge red tomatoes, dripping with sweetness, served on good bread; of bushels of ripe fruits being borne into the kitchen. I envision myself slaving away in the Summer heat, preserving this bountiful harvest - passata, ketchup, dried in oil, bottled, soups and sauces....
But Summer is as far away as it ever could be, and realisation dawns that I don't actually live in Tuscany. My poly tunnel still abounds with unripened fruit of various sizes. Admittedly many are turning pale orange, which is hopeful, but since I can now see the approach of November without my glasses on, the dream is fading.
But - I probably I protest too much here. In fact, there have been some lovely salads, plenty of passata too, and anyone who follows me on Instagram or Twitter will still see the daily appearance of cherry tomatoes in James's lunchbox. Many a Sungold has been nibbled as I wander around the plants. Just not huge amounts - considering the amount of time and attention they have had. Some have done better than others, and I'm glad I had this year to suss out what works and what doesn't. It has been my first year growing tomatoes up here, and my first year growing under plastic, so lots of learning to be done. I planted eight varieties in all, grown from seed. let's see how they did.
Top row: Lylia Cerisette, Golden Sunrise, Gardener's Delight, Sungold.
2nd row: San Marzano, Burpees Delicious, Costoluto Fiorentino, Black Krim.
Well, all those in the top row were fantastic. I have grown Lylia Ceristette for many years and it never disappoints - Sungold likewise. I would be hard pressed to choose between them - both are gorgeously sweet and they just keep producing their little orbs of sunshine. Gardener's Delight was late in starting to fruit, but it is making up for lost time now. very welcome since the Sungolds are almost at an end. A new variety to me was the medium sized, Golden Sunrise, bought when James secretly dropped a packet into my shopping basket at the garden centre last year. Slightly more acidic than Gardener's Delight, but not overly so, and in terms of production of fruit that ripened, well, it was a star performer. I will definitely be growing that one next year.
Moving down to the second row, and we have a more mixed set of results. San Marzano is a tomato I have had trouble with in the past - usually blossom-end rot, due to my slapdash watering habits. This year, however, I worked hard at this, and it has paid off. I have a decent crop just ripening now, hopefully all at the same time. It is a very late crop though, and I am impatient for it to be ready, as I want to prepare the tunnel for Winter. If I do grow it next year, there will only be a couple of plants at the back of the bed.
Burpees Delicious was a let down. They were the first to set fruit, but then completely refused to turn red. The one pictured was the only ripe fruit from three plants, and even then it ended it's career on the window shelf. it was very small too.
I had high hopes for Costoluto Fiorentino. A beautiful tomato in the seed catalogue and magazines, and indeed it set fruit quickly and profusely, but then the problems began. It seemed to have a habit of growing wildly out of shape,which made it difficult to harvest, and had a detrimental effect on the rest of the crop. If you look at the first picture, you will notice how it grows up and over the stem. This meant that in picking it, the stem was damaged, and nine times out of ten, the unripe tomatoes growing below came away too.
Now I am all for knobbly fruit and veg - no supermarket uniformity here, but I found CF just a bit too crazy. Many of the bobbly bits ripened and began to rot before the rest of the fruit was ripe, and they tended to go soft quite quickly. It wan't a massive problem, as I just cut those bits out and served them up anyway, but it would put me off growing it again.
Black Krim was a similar story - huge fruits which began to soften and rot long before they were ripe enough to pick. I still have a few unripe on the plants, which, as the light levels plummet, I have all but given up on.
I think the problem is that, even under cover, it is just not warm enough here for these big tomatoes to grow successfully. It is probably also the fact that I am growing under plastic, which doesn't allow the same amount of light though as glass. Such a shame, because the bits that we did eat were delicious.
As were these, picked just yesterday. While the wind howled and the rain lashed, I was snug and warm, harvesting all the fruit that had ripened over our holiday. It would seem that small and medium sized tomatoes are the way forward here.
Anyway - with all the passata and soup bases tucked away in the freezers to brighten our Winter menu, I thought I would try something a bit different - Peat smoked tomatoes! Definitely a winner. I love my stovetop smoker and used it extensively over the Summer, smoking fish, chicken and sausages. It transformed our beach barbecues, - so much easier and much more effective to whip of the lid after 15 minutes, and reveal smoked langoustines,scallops, or mussels - perfectly cooked! So, out it came again and with some black peat crumbled into the bottom, salt, pepper and sherry vinegar thrown over, these end of season tomatoes ascended to new smoky heights, full of flavour.
But we're not quite over yet. I have hope that their will be another couple of pickings before these plants come out to make way for the new raised beds. Christmas tomatoes from The Outer Hebrides, perhaps?