Bumper Crop: Tomatoes

In the city, a bumper crop is something you get when you idle too close to the taxi in front of you in traffic. It never really meant a surfeit of glorious produce, which then brings about the pleasant dilemma of how we are to dispose of our bounty. No, that type of bumper crop belonged in the corner of my head right next to the wood nymphs and faeries, while I satisfy myself with what finds its way to our groceries and city markets.

But times are a-changing as more consumers see the need to: 1. Have fresher produce, untouched by chemicals (and in the process getting closer to the source of where our food comes from), and 2. Support our smaller local farmers (who are really such champs…go local farmers!). Small organic farms/farmers are forming cooperatives and groups to get their products to us. Concerned consumers are working directly with smaller farmers (who perhaps cannot afford to come all this way) to make available the treasures they offer.

So now, aside from the small farmers I see at my markets, and religiously try to support (especially if they show some spunk in trying to grow herbs not commonly available), it is not surprising that emails announcing “Organic tomatoes!” needing to be sold in 10-kilo batches filter down the food chain to little ole me. Organic, native tomatoes, grown by a newbie organic farmer, “grown using local community labor at fair wages”…would I be interested to buy? That would be a resounding yes! :)

We got a tomato-buying group together (10 kilos is a bit of a stretch for C and I no matter how much we like tomatoes) and placed our order of half red, half green tomatoes. I was thrilled when they arrived…truly looking all rosy and cheerful from a life without chemicals. We left for Hanoi the next day so my tomatoes had to take a nap in the fridge (I know, I know, but we had no choice) while we were away. When we got back I was faced with the tomatoes, at this point having to all be used without further delay.

Ah! The “pleasant dilemma of how we are to dispose of our bounty”…this is how we solved it…

Pickled Green Tomatoes
(adapted and pieced together from various recipes)

  • Green tomatoes, about 1 kilo
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Black pepper

- Place vinegar, water, sugar, salt, bay leaves, and pepper in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for a couple of minutes.
- While you are bringing the pickling solution to a boil, slice your tomatoes into quarters lengthways. Stuff the slices into clean/sterilized (I boil them) glass jars.
- After the pickling solution has boiled for a couple of minutes pour into the jars with the tomatoes until about 1/2 or 1/4-inch from the top, making sure all the tomatoes are covered. Cover and let cool.
- When cool, place in the fridge. Let it rest for about a day before eating. Serve with smoked, grilled, or fried fish. A nice condiment to add to your hamburger sandwiches too!

Tomato Chutney
(adapted from Modern Classics 1 by Donna Hay)

  • Ripe tomatoes, about 500-600 grams, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

- Simmer everything (except the salt and pepper) in a saucepan or a deep frying pan, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until thickened. Mine took longer than 30 minutes…about 45 minutes – 1 hour until it was nice, thick, and sticky.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, stir, and simmer a bit more, about 5 minutes, then take off the heat.
- Immediately pour into cleaned/sterilized jar/s, cover, and turn sealed jar upside down until cool.
- When cool, turn right-side-up and store in fridge. Serve with savory tarts or pies, or use as relish in ham/roast chicken sandwiches.

Oven-roasted Tomatoes
(adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros)

  • Ripe tomatoes, about 1-1.5 kilos
  • Olive oil for drizzling and for storing
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed

- Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Line a baking tray with aluminum foil and brush with oil. You can use a tray or a jelly roll pan, or even a cookie sheet that’s got a little sides.
- Slice the tomatoes in half lengthways and place snugly side by side in the baking tray, seeded side up. Drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Bake for around 15 minutes or until you see the tomatoes sizzling and coloring, then lower the temperature to 150C (300F) for another 1 1/2 hours until they are a little shriveled but not completely dried out. I lowered it to 170-180C and kept it for about 2 hours until I liked the way they looked. They will look similar to the sun-dried tomatoes you get in the store but meatier and not as dried – and tons more gorgeous ;)
- Leave tomatoes to cool then transfer them to a clean/sterilized jar. Place the 2 garlic cloves in the jar and cover everything with olive oil – you can add more herbs and/or spices in here if you like. Store in the fridge.

All recipes were adapted to the tomato quantities we had and are very flexible. Note also that I do not follow any approved procedures for sterilizing and canning. These are immediately refrigerated and consumed shortly after. They are not for long-term storage.

C is loving the pickled green tomatoes…having it as a siding (or what he likes to call pampaganang espesyal) with tinapang bangus (smoked milkfish). The tomato chutney still waits in the fridge for an occasion to trot its sweet-and-sour-y goodness out. My favorite of the bunch though is the oven-roasted tomatoes! The slow-roasting essentially concentrated all the tomatoes’ sweetness and intensified its flavor exponentially. I have used it in salads, pasta, and in one delicious tomato/mozzarella/basil tart! And it is so easy to make! I use the oil it is soaking in as well, adding it to pasta sauces and salad dressings.

I’ve got more local purveyors lined up to try out – this time for fruits and dairy products. My palate is tingling in anticipation :) Go out and support your local farmers today!

I'm submitting this homage to tomatoes and the valiant small farmers who grow them to Weekend Herb Blogging, that wonderful event that celebrates everything that plants can give us :) WHB was created by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen and this week's round is hosted by Laurie of Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.