Every year since I started writing a food and gardening blog I have posted photos and descriptions of the different methods we use to preserve the huge numbers of tomatoes we grow. Recipes vary depending on our mood and the time we have available, but in my view the magic never varies. From small seeds in March we grow the seedlings, nurture them indoors and then on the balconies until the plants are strong enough to survive in the garden. We water them every other day at least and watch the flowers and then the tiny green fruits appear. Towards the end of June or at latest the beginning of July we pick our first ripe fruit and then by the end of July the Roma variety start to ripen in large numbers, ready for picking and turning into purée to be used throughout the winter and spring until next year’s crop is ready again.
Tomatoes are so important here, as a basic ingredient of Mediterranean cuisine and I wrote a post four years ago about the significance of the gardeners’ query ‘vous avez des tomates?‘ – literally translated as ‘do you have tomatoes’, but in fact meaning ‘is everything all right?’ No one in our village could imagine living without them.
Some of the tomatoes we picked in the garden, carried home in a recycled fruit box fittingly labelled ‘soleil’. When we pick them they feel hot, full of the sunshine we’ll store to eat in winter.
We’ve found by trial and error over the years that the simplest method of preserving tomatoes is to quarter them, sprinkle sea salt over them and roast them in the oven for a couple of hours. When they’re beginning to brown slightly and have lost a lot of the liquid (the water we have patiently given the plants over the past couple of months!), we put them through a mouli légumes (a sieve would work too) and then heat the resulting purée in a pan on the hob until it has reduced a bit more (the choice of how thick you want your purée is up to you – we keep it to a pouring consistency) then add a dash of vinegar and pour it into sterilised jars. We cover the purée with a thin layer of olive oil and seal them. Because this purée is always heated again when it’s eventually used in in sauces I don’t worry about heating the full jars in a steriliser, but some people do.
The box of tomatoes made four jars of purée – we’ll be making many more during the next few weeks.