Emergency tomato sauce

Pile of tomatoes to turn into sauce
Pile of tomatoes to turn into sauce

As far as the kitchen garden is concerned, August is a bad time to take a holiday. Sadly, our Bellegarde peaches ripened and dropped from the tree whilst we were away. They would normally ripen around the beginning of September, but with the mild start to the year everything seems to be fruiting a bit ahead of schedule. The weed growth in the polytunnel was incredible – it was cleared just before we left but a veritable jungle when we returned. Fighting our way past the remains of the enormous canes of Early Bantam sweetcorn – the last few of which were picked just before we left and loaded into the freezer – we found a bit of a tomato disaster.

Following a bit of a slow start to the tomato crop, we finally had plenty of fruit developing. Two days before leaving we harvested everything that was even half ripe and produced tomato sauce, some of which we used straight away and the remaining 4.5 litres or so we put in the freezer. We returned to find a lot of ripe fruit, and a fair bit lost after falling from the vines. Some of the supporting canes in the polytunnel had failed and we found half a dozen of the most heavily laden plants had fallen down and were lying across the central bed – not doing themselves or the other crops any favours. The canes were secured with clips to some tensioned steel cables running the length of the tunnel. The canes have been fine in previous years, but we are growing increasing numbers of the large fruited sorts and, where the canes are slightly sloping to follow the sides of the polytunnel, the weight of the unpicked fruit caused the canes to bend enough to pop out of the clips. The canes are probably strong enough to support the crop, but I will need to improve the fixing next year. There are some horizontal bars running along the sides of the polytunnel to which the canes can be tied to prevent them from bending and coming free of the clips – hopefully that will suffice or it is back to the drawing board.

The critical job this week was to tie back up the fallen plants, as best we could, pick what ripe fruit was available, rescuing as many of the battered and bruised specimens as possible, and turn them into more tomato sauce. The sauce is nothing special – we simply remove the cores from the larger tomatoes, coarsely chop, and simmer in large pans to reduce the water content somewhat, before packing into a motley assortment of containers for freezing. Last year we produced enough to avoid having to buy any canned tomatoes – and we use a lot of tomatoes. This year there looks to be even more so we should have plenty. Last year we mixed things up a bit, with some yellow sauce, some blended and some rather rustic. This year we combined the different sorts of tomatoes and blended all of it. There are still bits of skin and seeds in it, which is fine for us, but I certainly prefer it for most purposes when quickly processed with a hand blender. Perhaps I should invest in one of those gadgets so common in the Italian kitchen that, with a whirl of the handle, will yield tomato pulp without the skin and seeds.

Overall we put away 30 containers of various sizes with some 18 litres or so of sauce, which will be great through the winter and spring. There is still a lot of fruit to come so sauce production will remain a weekly chore for a while yet.

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