Back to work
I’ve played truant for long enough. After about a month in London and Italy (from Assisi northwards), revelling in art, history, music, ballet and some stellar gardens… well, I just have to get down to it and put my back into the Jasmine Garden. As every gardener knows, at the height of the growing season it’s risky to be away too long.
My husband returned to New Cairo about a week ahead of me. Early reports from him were reassuring: the irrigation system was in good order, the lawn looked sumptuous, he had picked 5 kilos of cherry tomatoes from the vines, the dates were promising and, while we had lost our two lonely plums (to the birds?) he had found two pears.
I’ve just got back, and, to flesh this out a bit, I can report:
What’s in: tomatoes, green capsicums, onions, sweet basil, mint, rosemary, sage. All thriving.
What’s out: those horrible GM courgettes (well, thank heavens for that!); French beans and mange tout (completely dessicated on the stems, pulses rattling ominously in their pods). Bonus point: I’m astonished to see that a dried out stick of bougainvillea popped in as a support for the mange tout has sprouted leaves.
What’s gone to seed: rocket, flat leaf parsley, coriander, chard, celery, borage, dill. And a whole lot of weeds.
What’s struggling: some capsicums; beetroot, rocket and flat leaf parsley. With temperatures at or above 40C, I’m not surprised.
Over the past two days, I’ve picked a further 1.5 kilos of cherry tomatoes. The harvest is such that I’m developing an image in my mind’s eye of filling our wheelbarrow, along the lines of the gardener-restauranteur I wrote about previously. We are well ahead of the “crazy tomato” season in Egypt, when the quantity of produce is such that prices fall through the floor and the street vendors sell them for next to nothing. The bonus for us is that these little gems taste amazing.
But what to do with them all? First off, my husband pureed and froze a large quantity for future use in pasta sauces, casseroles and so on. With the freshly picked fruit, I’ve settled on using them in a variety of ways:
i) Spreading them around the salad bowl, topping off with a sprinkling of just-picked rocket, cress and parsley. We savour the taste of crisp, fresh carrot and cucumber offset by soft, sweet tomatoes still warm from the afternoon sun, rounded off with a flash of pungent leaves: yum!
ii) Filling a buttered oven dish with halved tomatoes, scattering over them snipped rosemary and thyme leaves, shavings of onion, sliced garlic, salt and pepper, drizzling the whole lot with olive oil, then covering the dish and roasting them in a hot oven. When soft, tip the whole lot into the food processor, rinse the dish with a little hot water, add to the mix, then whizz to a rough texture (a couple of quick pulses). This makes an ace pasta sauce, with the addition of a few torn basil leaves and some Parmesan cheese brought from Bologna. Even more yum!
iii) Making Delia Smith’s wonderful tomato soup. It couldn’t be simpler: all you need is a medium size potato, about 700g tomatoes and half an onion softened together in some olive oil over a low heat. Add a crushed clove of garlic, pour on about 500ml of veggie stock, season with salt and pepper and allow to simmer until soft (say half an hour). Then whack the mixture through a food mill, reheat and serve with yet more torn basil leaves and a dash of cream or creme fraiche. Arguably the best tomato soup ever, and a Ramadan favourite in our house.
We are truly grateful for our bumper crop of little jewels. What is fascinating, from the point of view of a gardener, is to see how levels of production in the different raised beds have panned out. In a word: unexpectedly. More on this in my next post.