Green Wizardries, Tomatoes by Maxine Rogers
We are having a big harvest of tomatoes this year. One thing the recent years of volatile weather has taught me is that not every year will be a good one for tomatoes. I used to think we needed enough tomatoes to get from one harvest to another but I have come to see it is much better to have two, or even three, years of tomatoes put up.
There is a formula common among people who have to drive in large deserts that they need to take along enough water for several days of being stuck for each member of their party and an equal amount for any poor, unprepared people they might come across who are stuck in the desert with no water.
We also never know if we will need to be feeding extra people so we might as well have lots of food put by. I mean, what would you do if some relatives or friends needed to come stay with you for a while?
So, there you have it, two good reasons to have a large, well-stocked pantry. It also looks as if we are headed into another Covid panic and may be facing lockdowns and the supply shortages associated with disrupting the economy in this way.
This year, I tried a new to me Roma tomato, Italian Stallion. I got the seeds from Dan Jason and the plants are markedly more hardy and vigorous than the La Roma hybrids I got from West Coast Seeds and they are also more productive with very large, tasty fruit.
I tried another interesting, new to me Roma, called Orange Icicle. I was given some seedlings from a friend and her plants were also very vigorous. The Orange Icicle is originally from the Ukraine as are all the icicle tomatoes. It is open pollinated and indeterminate which means it can grow to be six feet tall. They are called icicles because they are a Roma type but skinnier than other Romas.
My husband didn’t like the colour at first as he wasn’t sure when they were ripe but they turn a deep orange colour when fully ripe and have a tangy flavour so they are a pleasant addition to soups, salads and salsas.
Every year, I trial a new cherry tomato or two as I hate buying tomato seeds and want to find an alternative to Sungold hybrid cherry tomatoes which taste so delicious. Hybrid seeds do not come true if you save them where open pollinated seeds do breed true. I bought Pink Bumble Bee cherry tomato seeds from West Coast Seeds and they are very pretty being of a light red colour with yellow stripes. They are a large cherry tomato and tasty but not as tasty as the Sungolds. I also tried a purple cherry tomato but am less impressed with its flavour. The colour is also not as appealing as I had hoped.
To collect tomato seed for next year for you and your friends and family, make sure you are only working with open-pollinated varieties. Let the fruit ripen fully or even over ripen. Cut open the fruit and harvest the seeds. The seeds will be covered in a sort of jell. This jell is a sprout inhibitor and needs to be cleaned off.
To clean the seeds, put them into a glass jar and add some water. Leave this jar uncovered on a windowsill until it gets mouldy. The mould will digest the jell off the seeds and leave the seeds clean and undamaged. Pour the mould off the top of the jar and any seeds that are floating on top. These seeds will be infertile. The good seeds are heavier and will be at the bottom of the jar. Strain and wash these seeds and put them to dry on a plate with a label on it. All tomato seeds look pretty much alike so you really do want to label. This process leaves you with clean, fuzzy tomato seeds that are easy to work with. Fresh tomato seed has great germination rates, as in every seed you plant come up so that is a good reason to save tomato seeds.
To preserve tomatoes, I use the water-bath canning method and have done so for a very long time. Some people say tomatoes should be processed in a pressure canner but I don’t see why as the water-bath canner does a good job and you can put batch after batch in the water-bath canner making it faster than trying to use a pressure canner.
We also dry a lot of cherry tomatoes in a dehydrator and these make a wonderful addition to winter salads and salsa. They are also a tasty snack on their own and I never need to worry about what to give my niece, Rachel, for Saturnalia as she just loves dehydrated tomatoes.