Tomatoes have not been an easy crop to grow this season. Traditionally, Labour Weekend is my tomato planting time, but this year the tomato patch was underwater and I hadn't even thought about giving the tomato stakes their annual coating of creosote. And then, by the time the ground had dried out enough to put the plants in, the specimens available at the nursery were either very close to being past their 'used-by-date' or were not the variety you really wanted to grow. To top it off, once you had planted your crop, the weather and soil conditions that prevailed for the next two months hardly helped. If you weren't fighting off the stem borer and the mites (both of which were thriving this season) you were having to resort to sprays to keep fungus diseases at bay (blight is rather like facial eczema - once you see it, it's too late). Blossom-end-rot was a problem from the irregular dumpings of rain making the tomato root systems too wet and if it wasn't the cold burning the outer leaves it was the sudden change into humidity unleashing hungry hordes of caterpillars and aphids. For those of you who managed to produce a crop, the drama didn't stop there. Possums were on the prowl as their usual food supplies were rather meagre because of the poor season. In my case, it was Mother Turkey and her three 'turkeylets' who usually live down by the creek at this time of the year, popping in on a regular basis and nabbing any ripe ones I hadn't managed to get out and pick. All in all, it's been a tough tomato time and congratulations to those with an abundance.

Everyone has heaps of favourite ways to deal with the question of "What to do with tomatoes?" and I like to have a good supply of dried and frozen tomatoes for winter use. The following recipes are my favourites - one using dried tomatoes and the other using all of the chopped-up bits from the tomatoes that were not quite good enough to freeze whole or to put on the meal table. Of course, if all else fails, there is nothing wrong with giving your two-year-old grand niece a very ripe tomato in each hand for her to play with on the front lawn!

TOMATO SOUP - a recipe that allows the fresh taste of the tomatoes to predominate and, during the winter, using frozen tomatoes gives a result that is just as good.

  • 1oz butter
  • one and a half pounds of tomatoes, quartered
  • one and a half pints of chicken stock
  • one medium-sized onion, finely chopped
  • one bay leaf
  • half a teaspoon of black pepper
  • a quarter of a teaspoon of salt
  • the thinly pared rind of half an orange
  • the juice of one lemon
  • one to two teaspoons of sugar

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. When the foam subsides, add the tomatoes and cook them for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Increase the heat to moderate and add the stock, onion, bay leaf, pepper, salt and orange rind. When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the contents through a sieve into another saucepan. Use the back of a wooden spoon to rub the tomato mixture through until there is only the pulp left which, of course, can go into the pig bucket. Add the lemon juice and the sugar to the soup and gently bring it back to the boil before serving it with heaps of French toast.

CROCK POT ROAST OF BEEF - ideal for a formal dinner.

Chop a medium-sized onion into small pieces and put it into the crockpot with basil, marjoram, dried peppers, dried tomato (fresh ones won't work) and half a cup of red wine (or trusty port if you don't want to open up a new bottle of red wine). The quantities you use are entire to your own taste but I would use a generous teaspoon of each dried herb and a generous handful of dried peppers and, perhaps, two handfuls of dried tomato. Roll a nice piece of topside roast around in this mixture until it is well coated, pop the lid on the crockpot, set it on low and forget it for about ten hours. When it is nearing dinnertime, lift the meat out and pour the juices into a small saucepan. Put the meat back in the crockpot to keep warm but switch the crockpot off. Mix one packet of Maggi Mushroom Soup Mix with a little bit of water and add it to the juices in the small saucepan. Stir this as you bring it to a boil. Carve the meat into steak-sized slices and pour some of this rich, tasty gravy across the middle, garnish it with a sprig of fresh herbs and serve with your favourite veges or salad and, naturally, that excellent bottle of wine you had waiting to be opened. The gravy will be quite salty which is why I don't add any salt or pepper when cooking the meat but you will find any extra gravy offered in a warmed jug will disappear very quickly!

Enjoy! Althea from Middelmost.