DERNIER MOT - Green Tomatoes
Even back in London we always used to grow tomatoes. Not for salads - the giant green canon balls we grew in rainy Bloomsbury would have broken the bowl - we grew them for green tomato chutney, which I have to confess is something of a fetish in our household.
So when we arrived in the south of France, the first thing the SP did was plant a row of paint pots with tomatoes seeds. We sat back and, and with growing dismay, watched the plants produce kilo upon kilo of fat red tomatoes bursting with juice and goodness. It was shocking. Every single fruit ripened and blushed. There wasn't a single green tomato and that winter our family was tragically left sans chutney.
Since then however we have got wise; we sow our seeds a good month later than everyone else and we keep them in the shade. We do get some persistent offenders of course - those keen little tommies who will insist on going red in August - but happily the majority of our toms are slackers who are still gloriously hard and green in late September.
Off we go to the market, badgering the man who keeps the north African spices stall for whole mustard seed, cloves and other goodies.
"What are you buy all that for?" asked Marie-France a couple of years back, catching me fingering fresh chillies and coriander. She herself was toting a large bag of sugar and a box of rubber bottling seals. "Don't tell me you're making jam?"
"Sort of," I admitted. "Pickled jam."
"What's she doing now?" enquired Bernadette, clacking out of the hairdresser's. "Not cooking again?"
"Chutney!" I said. "Not jam. Chutney. You eat it with meat."
"Meat and jam!" exclaimed the stall-holder, pulling a long face. "La cuisine English!"
"No!" I said, getting hot and bothered. "Think of it like gherkins! Something sharp and spicy to eat with rich meats!"
"And you make it with chillies?" said Marie-France.
"No, it's mostly made from green tomatoes..."
Suddenly everyone was interested. "I've always wanted to find something to do with them," said Marie-France. "I hate waste."
"The Cévennole onion jam is famous," mused Bernadette. "To eat with pâté... perhaps it is something like this?"
"Kind of," I said. "But it's stronger. More vinegar and um, chillies."
They all looked at the contents of my shopping basket and I could see their nascent enthusiasm dying on the spot.
"I'll give you all a taste," I said. "When it's made, I'll let you know."
They faded away, but a challenge is a challenge so when I made my chutney I filled a series of specially-reserved little baby food jars and gave them out to everyone with instructions to try it with their charcuterie.
The result was that the next autumn, Marie-France and Bernadette organised a communal chutney-making session in the village hall. It was terrifying. Between us all, we had over 60 kilos of green tomatoes, not to mention a stack of plastic crates containing locally grown onions.
On the first day we chopped the tomatoes, sprinkled them with salt and left them to sweat, on the second day we rinsed the tomatoes, chopped everything else and boiled it all up, and on the third day, having got it all into labelled jars, we went off for a celebratory apéro at the bar.
"Très internationale!" said Alphonse-the-Maire, with huge satisfaction. "We may be a small village, but here in Moisson we have the open spirit. We already make the poo-ding."
"Jolly good," muttered the SP his face twitching suspiciously.
"And now," said Alphonse, warming to his theme, "we make the shoot-knee!"
GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY
Sprinkle 2lbs of sliced green tomatoes with salt and leave
Drain, rinse and then simmer very gently for one to one and a half hours with:
1 pint vinegar
1 lb Demerara sugar
12 oz sliced onion
3 hot red peppers
half oz finely chopped fresh ginger
quarter oz ground cloves
quarter oz ground black pepper
4 oz whole mustard seed
Let cool, bottle and seal.
The chilli peppers can either be left whole and then discarded or chopped and left in before bottling, or the burning seeds can be removed before you make the chutney... (I chop it before putting it in and then leave it in - wear rubber gloves!)
The mustard seed should be the pale yellow round seeds, not fine black ones.
You don't have to seal hermetically: this stuff will keep
for years in a simple screw-top jam-jar. I don't sterilize either. I just wash the jars thoroughly and dry them in the oven.
Here is a metric version of the same recipe, for 25lbs of
10 kilos green tomatoes
5 litres vinegar
5 kilos Demerara
4 kilos of chopped onion
30 hot red peppers
70g ground cloves
70g ground black pepper
1 and a quarter kilos whole mustard seeds
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