Tomato week

This blog follows on from the interview with Owen and Emma Kate of TomBoys

After our chat they gave me some tomatoes – just over 20kg actually.. A lot. Too much? Nearly! Definitely enough so I could play around with how to use them.

When the Tassievores got together to brainstorm events for the events calendar, a group tomato picking/ bottling event was top of my list for a good reskilling workshop. It didn’t pan out unfortunately, so this blog is about my own experience with a lot of tomatoes.

Straight up I did as Owen and Emma Kate recommended and made a passata/ sugo style sauce from a Fowlers Vacola recipe that just so happened to be all Tassievore (score!).

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Chop.  Cook.  Herbs.  Don’t they look nice!? Here are the proud results of the passata-fest with sexy bottling outfit in the background.

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I have already used one bottle to make a zuchinni-puntanesca style pasta with some home churned pasta – very happy. I’ve given away a few bottles but will hold on to the rest for some more tasty adventures. I worried it would be too watery and bland, but nope! Great flavour.

I gave 8 or so kilos to a mate who made a big batch of tomato sauce with them – the type you’d pour on a (local) snag in bread,

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so after that and the Passata I had 7kg of tomatoes left. I decided to wait a bit for flavour to develop.  The tomatoes were picked that morning so there were no soft/squishy/furry toms in the mix. They didn’t make A grade due to superficial blemishes – a black spot or no little greeny stalky bit.  Checking in on them three days later I was greeted by a half-box of happy, red little fellows still quite firm and nowhere near ‘squishy’.

So I left them a week in a box on the floor.

And then they were how I wanted them, crazy red and getting soft to touch – still no furry ones as none of the skins had split. I made a sauce/ relish combo which turned out great (not as salty/ acidic as a tomato sauce, and not using a bottle of EZY sauce as I probably would if making a relish). The mustard seeds are really only for decoration as they didn’t add much flavour..

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I thought i’d give drying a go with the final kilo.  Unsure how economical this is with power though – especially when you put the dehyrdrater on the wrong setting – repeatedly. (estimated 14 hours of power usage to dehydrate them)

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Anyway – the end result of the drying experience (with salt and rosemary) was this.  They look crazy red huh.

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I can’t believe that’s all of the tomatoes gone!  Now that I know I can make these things I would love a few more batches of passata and some conventional sauce (mate only gave me one bottle, booooo) and maybe try a few types of salsa – I wonder if tomato paste is hard to make or the energy (electrical) put into making it doesn’t make it worth it?  Hmm yes i definitely want to try more.  Good news is that I know where to source TomBoys now (pun!) and they aren’t the only one around growing local toms. *ahem – proud announcement, the first of my own backyard crop are getting some colour on them – Behold the first pick!

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Grown in Tasmania: interview with Owen and Emma Kate of TomBoys

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This interview came about due to a question from a reader on our blog a few months ago – where can we source local tomatoes!?  I did some searching and got in contact with TomBoys, a grower in Bridgewater.  We got talking about their product which led to me popping across the river to check it out for myself..

Quick! Who are you and what do you do?

We are TomBoys: tomato growers based in Bridgewater. We’ve been growing tomatoes in Tassie since 2006 and are slowly increasing our stockists and retail venues around Hobart, to provide the market with fresh, local and tasty toms.

That was quick, you are good at this.  Tell me a bit more?

Sure, we are a family run business, growing in greenhouses using sustainable methods.  When we bought the property, the greenhouses needed a lot of maintenance.  We actually only use 1 of the 3 greenhouses here for all the tomatoes because it’s such a big job to fix them up and plant them out.  In the future we hope to expand and diversify the business, but for now it’s mainly toms.  We pick from November to Juneish and employ around 10 locals on a casual basis to cater for the really busy times.

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Nice one.  You mentioned sustainable practices, care to elaborate a bit on that?

Well there are some inputs that are unavoidable, we do save some seed but find the strike rate (number of seeds undergoing germination) variable and there is always the possibility that over generations the breed will lose characteristics over time.  We recycle our water and fertilizers which go through a UV filtration system.  Much better than chemically treating everything or letting it go to waste that’s for sure!  We recycle our grow bags (coconut husk by-product, highly recommended) for up to 4 years as well, we recycle a lot actually. We don’t use pesticides or fungicides pre-emptively.  Sure if there was a major bug problem we’d have to consider it, but there are better ways to keep the crop healthy.  One of our ongoing pests is the Greenhouse Whitefly, we are certain to encounter this every year.  We combat this with a biological control called Encarsia Formosa, a tiny wasp that targets the Whitefly – this means we don’t need to apply any chemical solutions.

We would probably be certifiable as fully organic if we didn’t use mineral based fertilizers, but that would complicate things as tomatoes are a hungry crop and we don’t want to sacrifice our quality.  When we have to heat the houses (rarely) we have a boiler that burns foreshore driftwood and offcuts from a local mill.  Our summer cooling is greatly assisted by our riverfront location; generally the breeze coming across the water helps to keep our temperature in check.

The fact that we only stock locally also reduces the crops carbon footprint by keeping our food miles low.  Crops are picked in the morning and delivered that afternoon and we never ever gas ripen: what you see is what it is with us.

Okay. That was impressive.  Why tomatoes?

We ask ourselves the same question sometimes!  We kind of dove right in without doing the research and learnt as we went along.  Luckily nothing went wrong with those early crops and we’ve now built up the experience, our product is getting better and better every year.  Perhaps next time we’ll plan it a bit more carefully, but we do love growing tomatoes!

Where can I buy your tomatoes?

We stock various grocers around Hobart, most of the big name gourmet ones as well as smaller neighbourhood options, ask them and they’ll tell you if they are currently stocking us!  We have our own little road-side stall which we love, we sell our toms and produce from the garden or other Tassie growers (lettuce, cucumber, herbs, potatoes etc.) at the end of Wallace Street in Bridgewater.  We really want to expand and have a presence at farmers markets such as the New Norfolk Farmers Market.  We’re also happy to deal directly with restaurants and the public.

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What should backyard growers do with their summer glut of tomatoes?

Eat them! Pickle them, chutney them, sauce them.  Make a basic sauce with just some onion and herbs, maybe red wine and a bay leaf and bottle that, you can use that as a base for soups, bolognaise, chili con carne, veggie roasts, sauces…..  Eat with grilled cheese, use with seafood, cook rice in it, toss pasta through it, add to mash potato, shepherd pie, serve with quiche.  You can make just about anything with it.

Milkshakes?

tomato milkshake

Never say never!

Fair enough.  Thanks for your time

No worries.  Take some tomatoes with you when you go..

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TomBoy farm is located on Wallace Street, Bridgewater, Their phone number is 0408107950.

Spending a few hours on a Sunday morning checking out TomBoys farm in Bridgewater was great, good to see passionate growers willing to work hard to get results.  The pickers started at 7, but I certainly didn’t get there pre 9:30!  Nevertheless they left me a token row so I could satisfy my need to get amongst it all, I love the smell of tomato plants: spicy, savoury and fresh.  You’ll see the orangey-red colour in my picture of the bucket of toms? That even colour means the tomato has taken what it needs from the vine, only requiring time to develop its full colour and flavour.  After picking, the tomatoes are passed through a bubbly water system to wash, graded by weight by a machine, then graded for quality by eye before being packed away.  All this happens not 20 meters from where the vines grow!  Packed boxes are transported by truck to various grocers around Hobart that afternoon, such a short/ minimal processing required food chain.

Grocers determine at what point the tomatoes hit the shelves – in the box the colour deepens within hours to a deep red, due to the fruits release of Ethylene, a plant hormone that promotes ripening (benefits of a MSc in Food Science and Technology: nerdy facts!).  Texturally, given they were picked that very day grocers are able to store the toms until required- just like fruit in a fruit bowl.

I ended up taking 20kg of sauce tomatoes with me..  And a few things from the TomBoys road-side stall, including a young Bay tree.  Side note: does anyone know if native wildlife will nibble down Bay trees like they have been my kaffir limes? Anyway –  I’ll share success, failures, results and recipes with you in the next blog!