Tomato essence

Tomato EssenceI was fair consumed with jealousy at the weekend when I visited my friend Abby and saw her homegrown vines heaving with luscious red fruit, which I couldn’t help comparing infavourably with the massed cordons of shiny green balls dangling from my plants right now. Alas, such is the lot of the exotic tomato grower – these rare or old varieties really do seem to take so much longer to ripen. So much so in fact, that the last two years my crop has been almost a total failure, as by the time they’re due to redden the weather has turned suddenly wintery (what happened to Autumn as a season?!) and I’ve lost half to blight and the rest get too cold and stay stubbornly green. If that happens again this year I think I’ll give up, and go back to good ol’ Gardener’s Delight like normal non-masochistic growers do.

Tomato EssenceAnyhoo, if you’re delighting in plants groaning with ripe fruit, or you’re lucky enough to frequent a market (y’know – one of those places you can get ’10 mange tout’ ) that sells seasonal bounty cheap, and you’ve never tried making Tomato Essence (also known as tomato ‘tea’, or more erroneously ‘consomme’) then now is the time. It is, as the name suggests, the pure clear essence of tomatoness. The soul and heart flavour of Solanum lycopersicum, taste of the Med and balm to the soul. No, really. Stop snorting at the back. This stuff really is worth the hyperbole.

And it’s so simple! In fact, I make it not only when I have a heap of whole fruit, but any time some barmy chef tells me in a recipe to cut out and discard the seeds and pulp – you know, the bit where the flavour is!  The cores from a standard punnet of toms won’t give you heaps of essence, but even a shotglass-full is worth the minimal effort when you realise what a punch this stuff packs.

Taste. Of. Summer.

Tomato EssenceTomato Essence
Serves: Some
So simple in fact, there are no measurements. Take the skins, cores, pulp and seeds from as many tomatoes as you have. Use the tomato flesh for something else – a salad perhaps, or a fresh tomato sauce, or maybe even oven-dried tomato ‘petals’. Chop the cores and pulp roughly with a knife. Don’t be tempted to blitz them in a processor, even with a big batch, otherwise you’ll smash bitterness from the seeds into your lovely essence. Place in a muslin-lined sieve (or a jelly bag, if you have one), shake over a little fine salt and stir briefly.  Set the sieve or jelly bag over a jug into which you’ve placed a few bruised sprigs of basil or fresh oregano, and leave to drain overnight. If you can suspend your muslin from something (a fridge rack for instance) so much the better, to get maximum ‘essence’. At no point squeeze the muslin/bag or attempt to force juice through – that will make the end result cloudy. Taste the clear essence in the jug, and add salt if needed. Serve as it is, chilled or at room temperature, perhaps garnishing with a sprig of fresh herbs, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or even a few balsamic pearls.

Advertisements

The elderflowers are coming!!!

Elderflowers on the treeIn case you haven’t yet been enveloped by the the aroma of fragrant cat’s piss wafting from the trees, allow me to remind you that the Elderflower season is here!  As I mentioned in my post last year, it’s important to plan your picking of elderflowers to get the most of them, and with the forecast in most of the country being for rain over the bank holidays, this weekend is the time to get cracking – the blooms will have lost half their potency once they’ve been drenched by the Jubilee showers and will take a few days to recover. As for what to do with them, there’s a fabulous cordial recipe here, an elderflower champagne recipe on the way, and you could even try making some gorgeous elderflower fritters by coating the heads in a light tempura batter and deep-frying them.

The joys of growing chillies AND May Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge!

Homegrown chilliesLast year was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of grow-your-own success for me: we had chillies in abundance but due to a failure in labelling the seedlings we ended up with 2 varieties growing prolifically, whilst all the rarer and more temperamental (hubby wanted me to say ‘horticulturally challenging’!!) lineages were unwittingly abandoned as being too small to be worth planting out. I shouldn’t complain though, our freezer is still chock-full of the remains from the 2011 crop, and thanks to the mild autumn even in January we were still getting harvests like this:

Homegrown chilliesThis year I’m growing 7 varieties: Poblano, orange Habanero, Hungarian hot wax, paper lantern, cherry bomb and the seemingly impossible hot chocolate Habanero.* They’re currently incubating next to a sun-soaked window by day and in a hot airing cupboard at night – a method I hit on when I realised that really, I should have started them off in erm….March, and I knew they were going to need a serious kick-start. Mind you, last year I was a chilli newbie and didn’t start my seedlings off until June and I still got a great crop, so it’s honestly not too late to start yours if you haven’t already, just pick low-maintenence types like cherry bomb and aji limone!

Sweet Heat Chilli ChallengeThis month I am excited to play host to Lyndsey’s Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge which, in case you are not aware, is a monthly bloggers challenge that anyone can participate in where the star of the show is of course, the chilli. As 5th May is Cinco de Mayo, this month’s theme is Mexican so start rustling up your tamales, ceviches, tacos, salsas and xocatl!

The Rules:
  • You must mention Sweet Heat in your post with a link back to this post and to the parent site Vanilla Clouds & Lemondrops. Please feel free to include the Sweet Heat logo, however it’s not mandatory.
  • Send your post url and a photo (or preferably a link to the image) of your creation to me by 25th May, and please CC in Lyndsey at vanillacloudsandlemondrops @hotmail.co.uk
  • You can create your own recipe or make your favourite recipe but please credit the original source if using someone else’s.
  • The round up will be done at the end of every month. The new challenge will be announced on the 1st of every month.
  • Most crucially: you must include chillies/chili/chile peppers of some type in your dish!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*I’m not affiliated with the South Devon Chilli Farm by the way, they’re just where I get all my chilli seeds from and I can honestly say they rock!