Tomato festival

Yesterday was a bit wet, but the tomatoes seem unbothered and we needed to get them processed as quickly as possible so I was up at the allotment to pick them before breakfast and it was pretty much lunchtime before I managed to grab a bite to eat. Last year we invested in an inexpensive hand cranked passata machine and it really helps when you’ve got a lot of tomatoes to deal with. We don’t bother to skin them, just rinse them off to get rid of dust and insect leavings, and then chop them into pieces. Then we pass them through the machine, returning the residue  around four times to get the last bit of flesh out. Today’s batch of tomatoes weighed around 10Kg and made up 9 litres of finished sauce – it’s a Marcella Hazan recipe, very simple, just simmered for a couple of hours with six peeled and halved onions and 500g butter. Last year we experimented with bottling some of the produce because our freezer is too small to freeze all the tomato sauce and passata  we need for the next year. The bottled sauces were incredibly useful and kept well in a dark cupboard, in fact we finished up the last bottle a couple of weeks ago. Marcella Hazan and Anna Del Conte are two of my favourite writers on Italian food.

Any allotmenteer will know that you can get tempted to grow all sorts of things that turn out to be somewhere down the list of useful or favourite vegetables. We’ve discovered that good stock, fresh herbs, and prepared sauces like pesto and straight tomato are a tremendous ‘go-to’ resource on busy days and so we give some priority and growing space to them in the planning stage.

I love this time of year.  With a bit of luck we’ll be harvesting the seaweed in a short while, and thinking about charging the hotbed with a new load of fresh manure ready to beat the winter cold. So it’s not just the things that we’ve grown ourselves, there are all sorts of freebies in the hedgerows, not least the sloes and this year I think we’ll make some rose-hip syrup too. The storecupboards are slowly filling up with preserves, jams and pickles – it’s a very comfortable feeling as the nights get colder and longer.

Winter is civil engineering time and there are still a number of jobs to do like plumbing all the water tanks together and covering the compost heap.  It’s also a time for reflection on the last season.  We’ve already decided to move the strawberry bed into a more accessible place, and reposition a number of gooseberries and blackcurrants to give them more breathing space and light. Today I cut off the last of the maincrop potato haulms and covered the rows with black plastic until we’re ready to dig them. There was weeding and clearing away dead leaves to catch up with after our time away, but nothing much to worry about. We came home with boxes of veg to keep us going for 10 days.

We’re going to have a bit of a bash to increase our repertoire of vegetarian dishes, and decrease our meat consumption which, to be honest, has been declining anyway because we can’t afford the kind of meat we’d prefer to eat and I’d rather do without than support intensive farming with all its impact on the earth. No philosophy today, you may be pleased to see, but just the sense of profound thanksgiving for the gifts the allotment brings to us with very little credit to us or our skills.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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