Fresh, organic food is at the forefront of what we do here at Big Event Catering so we’re pretty proud of the fact that we are able to grow some of our own fruit and veg. Often the food we serve has been plucked from the ground just a matter of hours before it’s served up on our plates. Fresh, full of flavour, nutritious and smelling delicious! And at this time of year it’s all about tomatoes. Lovely, lovely tomatoes!
The polytunnel is bursting with them at the moment, so as well as cooking at events we’re also pickling, chopping, roasting and potting our home grown produce. This week alone we’ve made batches of tomato and chilli jam, oven dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil, passata to fill the freezer and tomato ketchup. If you’d like to have a go at growing some interesting varieties of tomatoes and making good stuff with them then read on…
Straight out of the ground on to plates or into jars!
Heritage tomato with buffalo mozzarella and our own raspberry vinaigrette – taster menu course
Growing your own
There’s something deeply satisfying about being able to eat food you’ve grown yourself. Walking smugly through endless vines of tomatoes has become one of my favourite past times. I try not to bang on about it to everyone, but it’s pretty difficult. Oh, did I mention they’re prize winning tomatoes? If not, you’re the last to hear.
Sorry. It’s a habit now.
Now, despite how proud I am of our crop it’s actually very easy to grow tomatoes. We like growing different varieties and shy away from the usual English varieties like Moneymaker or Alicante. Plus, we have to grow with the end product in mind – so big meaty varieties like Marmande, Coeur de Boeuf and Black Krim for passata, ketchup and salads and cherry varieties for drying and tomato and chilli jam. The best thing to do when you come across a good fresh tomato, wherever you are in the world, is to save some seed. Just rinse them and put on a plate – they dry very quickly.
Not all varieties work in the UK. Some succumb too easily to blight, some just can’t get to grips with our climate but many do very very well. And it’s fun! Some of my most successful large salad tomatoes are now in their eighth generation from seed that originally came from a friend’s small farm just outside Ankara in central Turkey. They are now well and truly acclimatised to the very different growing conditions here and give us a spectacular crop of huge hand-sized tomatoes through the growing season. We also plant plenty of varieties of basil and hot chillis alongside the tomatoes to use in all our recipes.
Eighth generation of a tomato that started out at a friend’s mum’s garden just outside Ankara, Turkey
Tips for growing
- Sow your seeds end of February – either in trays or individual pots (saves one of the transplant sessions)
- Use a good quality seed compost
- Keep seedlings warm and moist and somewhere where there’s plenty of light
- When transplanting either from seed tray into individual pots for growing on or from pot to earth / grow bag / big pot then remember to plant the seedling deep enough so soil reaches the first set of baby leaves (these fall off anyway).
- You need to know whether your varieties are cordon or bush – you grow and care for the 2 types very differently.
- Visit and inspect everyday, water everyday, feed regularly and enjoy the results. Save seed for the following year.
- For more detail on how to grow your own visit the Royal Horticultural Society website. Just go for it, you’ll learn as you go!
And for a really good selection of heritage seeds go to Thomas Etty’s website
Cordon tomatoes – cherry variety
Good recipes for tomatoes
Passata – nothing better than your own tomato sauce
One of the easiest things to make! Use ripe tomatoes. Sweat off some onions in a big pan, add chopped chillies if you fancy. Roughly chop a load of tomatoes and add to the pan. Cover the pan, heat until the tomatoes start to lose their form and go squishy. Remove lid, simmer till they’ve reduced by a third and use a hand blender to break them down completely . Pass the lot through a sieve, return to a clean pan and reduce until you’ve got the sauce to the consistency you want. You can season at this stage or when making something later on. Lasts for about a week in the fridge and freezes v well in jars or plastic tubs.
Oven dried cherry tomatoes – brilliant in all kinds of salads, in pasta dishes and as a garnish.
Turn the oven on to 70 degrees centigrade. Line a load of baking trays with parchment paper or foil – both work. Halve your cherry tomatoes and place in rows on the baking trays, cut side up. Close the oven door but stick a wooden spoon so it doesn’t shut completely. They normally take a couple of hours maybe longer – you want them completely moisture free but not scorched! Remove from oven and cool completely before stuffing them into jars and completely covering with olive oil. They last really, really well so long as they’re fully covered in good oil.
Tomato and chilli jam – this goes well with absolutely everything! I make ours relatively hot and sweet – you can fiddle around with the recipe to increase / decrease heat and flavours:
1kg ripe tomatoes (preferably cherry)
8 cloves of garlic
8 really hot chillies – decent size
about an inch square of ginger
60 ml fish sauce
600 g sugar – any is fine but caster best
200 ml red wine vinegar.
Rough chop the garlic and chillies. Peel and finely chop the ginger. Add these and half the tomatoes and fish sauce into a blender. Blend thoroughly. Transfer to a large pan. Add vinegar and sugar. Slowly heat making sure all the sugar dissolves before boiling (hence why caster is best). Chop the rest of the tomatoes – if using cherries halve them. Add these to the boiling mixture, bring back up to the boil and simmer until it reaches a good jam consistency. Stir occasionally to start with, more often as time goes on. If you leave for too long it catches. Remove from heat, let the jam stand for about half an hour and then put into sterilised jars.
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Happy growing and happy eating!