Another on-going job besides kiln maintenance at this time of year, is keeping up with the tomato crop as it slowly sprawls and proliferates all across the garden beds and over the lawn and down the pathways. They keep on flowering and producing loads of ever-smaller compact, flavoursome, little zingers. full of intense tomato flavour, but very small. These little beauties take a long, back-bending, time to pick. There is no easy way. I’ve tried kneeling and I’ve tried bending, but the problem is that there are so few places to put your feet, when the plants spread all over the place. I’m always aware of not crushing the fruit or the plant stems, which set down adventitious roots all along the way to feed and nourish the ever-expanding crop. It takes a long time, as there are so many of them, but it’s worth it. It doesn’t take too long to fill the first box.
I don’t get all of them, there are just too many, but I fill the basket. it’s enough. We can do this every few days at this time of year, and do. Batch after batch, we slowly fill the pantry cupboard shelves. After cleaning and washing the tomatoes, I simmer them down in the evenings when we light the stove. I make them into tomato passata, some times just straight tomatoes if I’m pressed for time, but on other evenings, when I can make the extra time. I brown our own onions in good EV olive oil and then add garlic, capsicums and basil with the tomatoes. It makes a richer flavour, but the extra fibre takes a lot longer to pass through the mouli sieve. Sometimes it’s just a batch of the prolific little yellow tomatoes, they don’t have the same level of acidity in them, so the piquancy is somewhat less, but they are still worth the effort. A more usual batch is a mix of all of the above. It just depends on what there is the most of on the day. Every batch is slightly different and makes for a natural variety throughout the coming year.
After sieving out the skins and seeds, the sauce is placed back on the stove to be reduced and concentrated a bit more, by about a third. This intensifies the flavour considerably. I try to make enough passata to last the whole year, so that we don’t have to buy any later on. This has been the case for a long time now. I haven’t needed to buy any pasta sauce for some years. This is one of the few things that we have been completely successful at achieving during our long experiment here. Self-reliance in passata!
For dinner this night, I bake some carrots, zucchini and aubergines, fresh from the garden and serve it with a helping of tuna steamed with fresh Thai basil leaves, wasabi and a squeeze of lemon. While the oven is hot I use the heat to dry some of the small tomatoes. After an evening when we have guests and make a dozen pizzas. I use the remaining heat to dry a few trays of tomatoes. Dried tomatoes are great, full of concentrated sweet acid flavour. They keep really well without any extra energy needing to be applied. We use them in stews and soups and where-ever we need that little extra hit of added flavour.
Indulging myself in this kind of self-produced and preserved, essential larder-filling activity is one of the reasons that I came here, to a place like this, miles away from services, where there was clean air and a lot of space to live out an imagined ideal. It takes a few hours a day of extra work and then occupies our evenings after dinner at the stove, but what could be better and more rewarding? I could of course be sitting, watching some brain-dead and fake commercial television show about how the cook?
It seems to have worked out OK for us. We have managed to earn a living from various and diverse means, all more or less associated with pottery making. We have tried making and selling pots, ceramic tiles, making and selling clay to other potters, building kilns, writing books, doing weekend workshops and part-time teaching. None have proved to be sufficient in their own right, but all combined together, has provided us with a self-reliant, if unreliable income through most of the years. This combined with gardening and orcharding, as well as eliminating most tradesmen from our budget by doing all our own building and maintenance, means we have been able to continue to live out this self-reliant, utopian, creative adventure for the past 40 years together.
I beats working for a living.
Best wishes from Dr. Do-Little and his Ms Abundance