The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

Har­bin­gers of the end of the grow­ing sea­son, th­ese jewel-like stun­ners glad­den the eye and perk up our palates as they fruit in pots on the ter­race and grow­bags in the green­house. The tomato, pep­per and the aubergine are year-round stal­warts in the su­per­mar­ket, but their flavours are so par­tic­u­lar to late sum­mer that I try not to buy them, how­ever se­duc­tive their colours, their blem­ish-free shiny sym­me­try and recipe po­ten­tial. There is noth­ing so redo­lent of the sea­son as the smell of home-grown, sun-ripened, mis­shapen toma­toes. A plat­ter of mixed va­ri­eties with tiny plums and cher­ries, hearty beef­steaks, clus­tered vines, in carmines, scar­lets, or­anges and yel­lows, add a few ripe red pep­pers and shiny aubergines, and you have a per­fect Septem­ber still life. Th­ese trea­sures are not na­tives though, and need to be mol­ly­cod­dled through the sea­sons to pro­duce to their op­ti­mum. The Real Seed Cat­a­logue (re­alseeds.co.uk) is run by gar­den­ers Ben and Kate Ga­bel from their al­lot­ment in Wales. They con­cen­trate on va­ri­eties that do well and taste great when grown by hand on a gar­den scale. They add: “Many are rare heir­looms, and be­cause all are open pol­li­nated, we give in­struc­tions on how to save your own seed in fu­ture. So there’s no need to buy new seed ev­ery year.” True gar­den­ing al­tru­ism. Be­cause of our short sum­mers, Ben and Kate sug­gest we grow a range of early bush toma­toes, orig­i­nally from Rus­sia and the United States, that ger­mi­nate well in cold con­di­tions, set fruit early, but are pro­duc­tive over a long pe­riod. They rec­om­mend Latah – fan­tas­tic flavour with bal­anced acid and sweet­ness, good raw or cooked; Le­gend Bush – good blight re­sis­tance with round, flavour­some fruits that will set with­out pol­li­na­tion; Grushovka – a shock­ing-pink plum type with ex­cel­lent flavour, pro­duc­ing large quan­ti­ties of fruit; Ore­gon Spring – a short bush with large round fruits; and Ur­bikany – an early round Siberian that is pro­lific and de­li­cious raw. Bush toma­toes are eas­ier to grow than vines be­cause they need lit­tle stak­ing, no pinch­ing out and have short side shoots. Th­ese va­ri­eties are non­hy­brid, so you can save your own seed. The Ga­bels sug­gest you squeeze the juice, pulp and seeds into a jar and leave to fer­ment for three days. The float­ing seeds are dis­carded from the fer­ment­ing mix­ture and the rest are rinsed in wa­ter in a sieve sev­eral times and dried on a plate. De­tailed in­struc­tions are pro­vided when you buy seeds. The Real Seed Cat­a­logue also of­fers a range of early ger­mi­nat­ing pep­pers: mouth­wa­ter­ing Sweet Choco­late, Lip­stick, Or­ange Bell, and Pur­ple Beauty; and beau­ti­ful pol­ished black aubergines, Ronde de Va­lence, Di­a­mond and De Bar­ben­tane – all pro­duce early de­lights over a long sea­son. For my birth­day lunch, I did a huge plat­ter of mixed sum­mer fruit­ing veg, some gleaned from my own slim pick­ings, some from the farm­ers’ mar­ket and some from Mack­nades, a lo­cal Ital­ian food emporium. We grilled long red pep­pers and round aubergines with a lit­tle olive oil and salt on the fire bowl, then ar­ranged them on a huge glass plate. I sliced fat red ribbed Cos­to­luto Gen­ovese toma­toes, halved tiny red and yel­low cher­ries, and quar­tered pur­ple plums and scat­tered them over the dish, then added a good mild crum­bled feta cheese. Tak­ing a cou­ple of ta­ble­spoons of pesto, I slack­ened the mix­ture with olive oil and lemon juice and driz­zled it over the plat­ter, adding basil leaves from the gar­den. High sum­mer on a plate. TOMATO TIPS Keep toma­toes out of the fridge. Un­der-ripe toma­toes will ripen in a brown pa­per bag in the fruit bowl. Sow seed by end of March on the sur­face of seed com­post in a 9cm (3.5in) pot. Cover with ver­mi­culite. Keep at 21C (70F) in a ger­mi­na­tor or air­ing cup­board. Trans­fer plants to a heated green­house (18C/65F) or sunny win­dowsill. As the first flow­ers ap­pear, pot on or plant in the green­house. In re­cent tri­als, Monty Don found that toma­toes grown in the ground pro­duced bet­ter flavour than in pots or grow­bags. Pinch out grow­ing tips now, so all the plants’ en­ergy goes into flow­ers and fruit. Toma­toes are packed with vi­ta­mins, ly­copene and an­tiox­i­dants, low­er­ing choles­terol and main­tain­ing bone health. Pre-or­der your 2014 cat­a­logue from re­alseeds.co.uk now for de­liv­ery in Novem­ber.

Take your pick: un­usual tomato va­ri­eties make for a per­fect ‘still life’ plat­ter

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