We are finally into tomato season in the greenhouse. All of that preparation, nursing through the spring, staking, feeding, watering and general encouraging begins to finally pay off properly in August. Was it worth it? Well that depends. With a bit of luck you planted some beefsteak tomatoes. In a cool overcast summer you might struggle to get these to even faintly resemble the ones you once ate in your youth in the south of France sitting under a vine covered terrace while drinking chilled wine at lunchtime, but this has not been a cool, overcast summer. This has been the most perfect summer for ripening big, juicy beefsteak types, and yes, it has absolutely been worth it.
Most people don’t need much guidance when it comes to what to do with their sun-ripened tomatoes, dripping with juice. It is like giving guidance on how to eat strawberries. There is no need for a recipe: put them in your mouth and bite. But there are a few gorgeous ways to treat the best tomatoes that are worth a reminder. They are, for a start, only ever enhanced by oil and salt. I recently saw Claire Thomson, author of new book Tomato, all about tomato cookery, giving a demo at Tatton Park Garden Show. She said that tomatoes contain all of the flavour profiles – sweet, sour, bitter, umami – bar one: salt. Add salt and you perfect the tomato. Salt also draws out the tomato’s moisture, creating beautiful juices for dipping. Slice up your tomato a little while before you want to serve it, spread it on a plate and sprinkle with salt and a little olive oil, then leave, just adding some torn basil or tarragon leaves before serving with hunks of bread. And speaking of bread, there has been a lot of chat recently on social media about tomato sandwiches, for reasons I cannot get to the bottom of. But never mind, because a tomato sandwich is indeed a glorious thing, a kind of straightforward version of pan con tomate. Good bread, thickish butter, thick slices of the best tomatoes sprinkled in crunchy sea salt flakes and with a few grinds of black pepper, and then topped with another well butter piece of bread. There are a great many variations of that flying about at the moment, but that in essence is all you need for the ultimate summer sandwich. It’s delicious, who needs ham?
If you are growing your own, we are getting close to the time when you will need to stop your tomatoes. The time for growing and for creating new fruits is almost past, and it is ripening time now, though the tomatoes don’t know it. Tomatoes will go on producing and producing as long as you let them, but the problem is that our season is short. They will not be able to ripen all of those babies so you need to give them some guidance. Once they have set five trusses of tomatoes, nip the stem out just above them, and remove any further flowers that form. This will force the plant to concentrate its energies into all of that gorgeous ripeness.
If you are having trouble with splitting tomatoes now, the problem is almost certainly watering. It has been so hot, and tomatoes are so thirsty, that it has been hard to keep up, and dry tomato plants form tough skins that then split when the plant is watered and the fruit swells. This is a particular problem with cherry tomatoes, which is one of the reasons I now concentrate on growing beefsteaks. But keep your watering as even as you can over the next few weeks and we will be through the hot bit, and will be eating tomato sandwiches galore.