When I wrote my first blog about tomatoes back in March it was the other end of the season; all I had were sappy little plants in a windowsill propagator, doing their best slow-motion tennis spectator impression, leaning this way and that as I constantly turned their pots around to help them grow straight.
In the warm September sunlight things are very different. I’ve got mountains of tomatoes of every colour from smoky pink through scarlet to orange, yellow and even green and black ones. The smallest (the cute yellow Galapagos tomato, top right) are barely the size of a hazelnut, and the biggest (the gnarly looking but very tasty ‘Black Krim’, to the left of the photo) have reached grapefruit-like dimensions.
I love them all, and one of life’s great pleasures is a simple Italian tomato salad with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and a few shredded basil leaves. Unfortunately, August’s cool and damp weather meant that most of my outdoor plants got the dreaded blight. Leaves shrivel, stems go black and you know that your tomato plants’ days are pretty much numbered. I left it as long as I could (this month’s warm, dry weather helped slow the blight’s spread), but before I went away on holiday last week I harvested all the unaffected fruit and disposed of the plants.
Tomatoes are one of a select group of fruits that have a handy habit of continuing to ripen once they’ve been picked (don’t try this with strawberries unless you enjoy eating furry grey mould). I picked them into an old fruit crate and stored them in the shed above a crate of apples; which is a useful way of speeding up ripening, as the apples release a gas called ethylene that promotes ripening. A week later, half of them had changed colour and now it’s time to call friends round for dinner and make chutney with the remaining green ones. Buon appetito!