Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Irishman From Delmonte

Last month I became Kimmage’s very own Man From Delmonte. Today the man, he say “YESSS!”  because last month, the man, he take twelve kilos of tomatoes from his garden patio and greenhouse in just one picking - quite a haul from a small suburban back garden, even if the man does say so himself. Another ten kilos followed towards the end of October just before the frosts got stuck in.
And then the man, he gets them processed and frozen tickety boo so his family can enjoy tomatoes for the next six months. Today he really does feel like that silver haired godfather of good home grown food - on whom decent, but flippant peasants do await anxiously on for approval. Today he is the alpha male grower gatherer.
This is absolutely fantastic because tomatoes are the most important part of our food growing efforts. Not only are they a joy to grow – colourful and exotic in the garden,bursting with taste and nutrition etc but organic toms are also quite expensive to buy - so we’re saving pot loads lots of cash into the bargain.
Kimmage's man from Del Monte shows off some Yellow Centiflor cherry tomatoes on the patio last month, by now rendered  into nutritious frozen pulp for pasta sauces.

Tomato pulp can be frozen forever and unlike many foods, it gets better for you through subsequent cooking - by which process makes it easier to absorb lycopene, the tomato’s magical ingredient. A Harvard study proved that eating tomatoes daily (high in Vitamin C and A) not only keeps us healthy (lycopene helps prevent cancer) – and important for a 20 a day smoker like me - but they also keep us young because the magic substance reduces the usual rate of cellular damage by between one third and 42%.
So say Harvard pointy heads anyways.
Excellent results so from the small suburban garden, but the next question is what exactly does a small suburban family do with twelve kilos of tomatoes?
It took much of a weekend to process the lot. They went into big pots and had scalding water poured over them to loosen the skins and remove them. The remaining pulp is simmered, stirred, cooled, bagged and frozen in meal sized plastic ziploks to provide vital vitamin C for stews and sauces all winter long.
Carried away with the processing I almost forgot about the seed saving. Greedy multinationals have doubled the price of food seeds sold here in three years for no obvious reason save to cash in on the food growing zeitgeist. So collecting and keeping the seeds saves me about twenty five euros next year and I won’t have to hunt all around for the particular varieties I want.
So now I’m not only the Man from Delmonte but I‘ve also become Mr Fothergill. And because saving heritage seeds ensures biological diversity – I’m actually Mr Eco Correctness Delmonte Fothergill.
It’s important that the fruit you select for saving are heritage only (not F1 hybrid clones which produce mutant plants from their seeds – check varieties online) and you need to ensure that they are big, unblemished, ripe and taken from similarly healthy plants -  because all the genes are inherited. Be a tomato Nazi here. Don’t take from a plant that has double fruit – two tomatoes bonded together – and the plant’s version of twins - because you don’t want to pass on those Jedwards.
Saving tomato seeds to last you up to eight years rather than the usual one or two, is a strange process which involves fermentation. First the seeds are scooped out into a glass or a jar and a drop of water is added -  then you stir it all through. You leave it somewhere warm over three to five days during which a skin of mould rapidly develops on the top of the solution. Beneath the mould cap, the mixture ferments to relieve the seeds of their gel bags and to sterilise them against mould or disease in storage.
Tomato seeds fermenting on my window sill last month
OK. Gel bags. If you look closely you’ll see that each tomato seed comes in its own gel sac. The gel is an inhibitor which prevents the seeds from fertilising inside the tomato and stops them sprouting on the ground on warm autumn days. It stops the seeds activating until the cold weather arrives and takes over to put the seed to sleep. Then the gel dries out and behaves like glue by attaching the seed to the ground.  This anchors it against the wind dislodging it and blowing it around. Not until the frosts are gone in late spring (or early summer in Ireland) will the soil reach a temperature which wakes the seeds into sprouting. Our artificial kitchen sink fermentation process thus speeds up the natural gel removal process.
After the allotted time, remove the mould skein and throw the seed mix into a sieve, run it under the cold tap and stir the seeds gently to slough off the last bits of gel and pulp. Now the seeds are separated and left out to dry for a week. Remember to mark each glass/jar to keep the varieties clearly denoted all through the process.
I separated the seeds over two evenings. Seven big wet lumps of about three hundred seeds a go came from each glass, each one slapped out onto a big dinner plate and teased out by me, one seed at a time, with two serrated steak knives. If you don’t spread them before they dry, the remaining bits of nature’s glue makes them almost impossible to prise apart without damage.
Gardener's Delight tomatoes pictured looking good last month

From there I transferred the seeds individually to dry on paper party plates  – in good supply because we’d just celebrated Plot 34’s WOE (waterer of everything’s) third birthday. Over two evenings spent teasing seeds apart in front of X Factor (Because I was "busy doing something" I didn't qualify for my usual 50% tv vote), I finally had seven multicoloured balloon and ribbon patterned children’s party plates full of singular seeds with the name of each variety carefully inscribed on the underside. I placed them tentatively on the table near the glass double doors where the Autumn sun would dry them out.
It was time to instil into Mrs Kimmage Delmonte the vital need to prevent unwarranted interference in the drying process.  Like many couples who are used to one another, we are wont to switch off when we’re preoccupied (Judge Judy/Discovery Channel) and the other happens to be procastinating .  Therefore I know by now that despite Her Outdoors making all the usual appeasing noises and gestures, it is was wholly possible all actually heard is: “Blah, blah, blah seeds blah blah.”
Bearing this in mind, I decided to plump for the rarely deployed “look at me” thing, and repeated over and over again that they party plates were VERY IMPORTANT and that they were NOT TO BE TIDIED UP, that they weren’t JUST LYING AROUND that they were involved IN A VERY  IMPORTANT PROCESS TO PREPARE THEM FOR STORAGE. And Her Outdoors did duly leave the party plates alone. After drying the plan was to file them into labelled envelopes for careful storage until next year.
Tomato seeds in carefully labelled envelopes yesterday

But the very next blustery day, and just before I wrote the last paragraphs of this entry - self satisfied and all that I was -  I popped downstairs to find the double doors wide open and the wind rushing around in the kitchen ( “the place needed an airing.”) The paper plates are all in a kerfuffle and the seeds are all blown into one another. I could clearly read “Centiflor Yellow” on the base of one upturned children’s paper party plate.
So biting his tongue, Kimmage’s Man from Delmonte heads straight back out to his bountiful plantation -  to hunt once again for seven perfect plants with seven perfect fruits.
Because today, even though he loves her to bits, the Man from he say: ... b*****ks!

The other man from Delmonte - who says "Yes!" instead of "b******ks!"


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