Friday, 6 December 2013

Bottling Tomatoes


When we moved to Italy I had thought one of the major pluses would be to grow our own vegetables and to know that they were completely clear of any of the ugly sprays that are supposed to kill us.
We built one of the more impressive vegetable gardens in our neck of the woods and have for the past five years tried to be as self-sufficient as possible.


The first year was a disaster as the soil we had dug into was once an olive grove, and was bed-rock. It took three or four years of compost heaps, bought in cow-dung, every bit of fibrous material we could muster to even garner five inches of top soil.

That said we had a fairly good response from our plants last year and I began to believe I could live through the winter months on our own frozen green vegetables, soups made from carrots and parsnips, raspberries melded into ice cream and puddings, apples bottled, pears pureed, and peas to rival Birdseye!
Since those early years of my building the heaven in my mind of frozen vegetables,  I have come to the conclusion that after the cost of buying the seeds, most of which become too hot in the greenhouse and die, those that aren’t planted in the correct month die, and a million other reasons why ones little seeds do not sprout, I then turned to the local nursery and bought their small plants. 

That said I thought it might amuse to share the complications of just one method of saving the feast of one’s own tomatoes!!!!

Every time I plant the seedlings I hear my dear mother’s voice saying, “All bought tomatoes taste of nothing but mud”, but only recently have realized that this today is not true. Our supermarket sells wonderful fruit year round that tastes of the real thing.

So why do I go on growing them?
Well it has to be for the fun of bottling the remains of a summers’ planting, pruning, pricking, and training etc., of the little red, roundly annoying fruit, doesn't it?


Summer visitors have now left and have barely eaten an eighth of our crop so out comes the tomato puree machine and I set to work to bottle their remains.
Not being a local and not really knowing what I should be doing, the first batch after processing in my new plastic machine I bottled and left over night as I was going out for dinner. The following morning I picked up a bottle to check that the top was firmly shut.   I had not had time to put all the bottles into boiling water to seal them and as I tested the lid it exploded and pebble-dashed the whole kitchen in a fetching orangey-pink lumpy colour.
The extreme noise alerted our daily and the look of horror on her face as she came upon the scene was good enough for a cartoon. I was covered from head to foot in a bloody pastiche of a murder and every single wall and flat surface heaved with a bubbling mass of red vegetable.

We were both frozen to the spot for a good minute before we dared move and start the clean up.

She advised I should chuck the whole lot out but as it had taken me the best part of a morning to produce four bottles of pulp I was damned if I was going to give the whole lot to the chickens.
After boiling, rebottling, and boiling again I think the day was saved.


My second attempt was just as dramatic. My new plastic machine for machinating was about as efficient of my salami slicer! In my opinion nothing that has moving parts and is made of plastic is any good and the bits that should attach and stay attached, do not.
Ten minutes into reducing half a ton of what was left of my crop, the machine bunged up, the nozzle shot off, the machine did a back flip and the kitchen had a second coat of tomato paint!!!


Having cleaned up for a second time which took longer than growing the entire crop I decided that it would probably be much less trouble to go to the Co-op and buy a dozen tins of chopped tomatoes.
I wonder if anyone could tell the difference when mixed with onions, herbs, etc., and poured over a pasta and covered with cheese?

I think not, but I will continue with my Tuscan adventure even if it kills me, which may be on the cards at this rate of experience.

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