For the first time in my life I have access at home to two ultimate pieces of household paraphenalia from my childhood 1970s. Firstly a soda stream, which I coveted sinfully 40 years ago as a nipper when the posh Naval officers families all had one. The cola and lemonade tasted more ICI than barrs or pepsi, but the orange was at least pretty decent. It was not just the novelty of doing it at home, it was the litte bit of industrial machinery which was maybe a little risky for the kitchen even. Mums could handle several times atmospheric pressure from the space age looking bottle of CO2. Gone is the fancy sleve and locking lever, and in is the simple, threaded sealing system twixt bottle and tower. Over the years it has been whittled down to the minimum possible of actual engineering and materials, which is both rather elegant with the machine being a descreet tower in capsule-espresso style , practical because I dare say the gas cannister is larger than in the 1970s, while the whole system becoming a flimsy feeling triumph of design over content, marketing over machinery, chain store margin greed over consumer brand value. (well that little rant went longer than I had imagined and was totally tangenital to the main topic here! You bought into it, Fred/Rants ))
The other quintessential 1970s household item which appeared in green houses., front windows, balconiies and south facing walls in summer, was the domestically tamed tomato plant. It was aided and abetted in its rise to a stranglehold on sunnier areas around UK households by the wonderfully simple "grow-bag". Compared to Que Gardens or even Percy Thrower, the grow back was the Idiot Savant which brought a little bit of Tom and Barbera's Good Life to thousands of socially aspirant UK homes. Semi dwarf varieties were available which did not grow to jungle like proportions in the course of one or two seasons at least. At the same time as the supermarkets had coluded with foreign producers to breed strains which would go red while not actually being sugar content or flavour ripe what so ever. Supermarket tomatoes became imposters - small botanical versions of polybutanate bouncy balls crossed with rubber water bombs. The clyde valley tomato industry which had supplied local, tasty if sometimes a little squisy tomatoes to us in the early 1970s, collapsed against the tide of continental pseudo food.
People then could reap a bountiful harvest of lovely ripe tomatoes grown from within arms reach of their kitchen chopping boards, and often grown in those very kitchens with their newly installed glassed porches or floor to celing windows. There in lay the very problem with many of these varieties. The fruit, as is factually and taxinomically the reproductive organ of the plant and not a vegetable, ripened quite nicely, but then so did they all. In their dozens. There may have been a few cheeky early arrivers to the party, but the majority turned green to red in the course of a sunny satruday afternoon and the wood be indoors farmer was inundated and festooned with the damn little red globes. Also in less silubrius locations for the plant, or with a late planting of seeds or starter saplings as it were, the plant would grow a pile of green fruits which blankly refused to ripen in the weaker sun either side of the summer months.
As a response to this suprising bounty, our amateur horticulturlists donned their chef du parti funny hats and aprons with boobs and suspenders on, to make various dishes, soups, salads, bakes, pastas and condiments which included the plentiful little round visitors. This included Tomato chutney, and as many found out, you could precrop unripe or slightly ripe fruits so as to ease your burden of the culinary rush hour which otherwise ensued upon the arrival of this most soft and savoury of fruits. A lack of sugar content in the greenish fruits was no hindrence to the masters of pickeling and condiments, because in the Atkins ignorant bliss of the 1970s, shoving masses of sugar into jams and chutneys was not seen as life threatening. As long as it had a home grown or nature picked source of flavour and colour, then you had grabbed your very own wee bit of 'the good life', and very content you were indeed in your crocheed tanktop and corduroys.
Time passed and despite an aversion to GMO, in part because genes that are stuffed in can also hop out, the plant breeders employed armies of botanists to do cross breeding and selective refinement to produce tomato plants which could achieve the Nirvanna of the grow bag aficionados, a plant whose fruits developed at different times, and plants which had also multiple flowering in the same season.
Now, we the spawn of the 1970s all lived happily ever after or rather we all had to work harder, worry about our careers., lose our first couple of potential spouses to 'wander lust' or 1980s consumerist 'choice paralysis' and didn't grow up to be Tom and Barbera, rather Gordon Gecko or a wayward endless cast of Slackers . We shared accomodation and avoided such discussions, as can I have a small holding on our smoking veranda ? Grow bags and aphid complexions became something pensioners did, not somethign we the supposed Yuppie generation bothered to waste time on. Time became money, and then we started to get less and less of it. Suddenly three quid for enough tomatoes to make a home attempt at campbells reddest and bestest soup, seemed liike a lot of money, and we mostly never did get very upwardly mobile in the delayered course of the late 1980s and the dreary grey early 90s.
Finally we got round to producing offspring and not giving too much of a damn about our careers any more, we had a place of our own, just like mum and dad did in the 1970s, only smaller while like a perverted Tardis, eating up more of our joint economy than in those rosey years of 1970 to 1977. We did though have space for those bonsai like chilli plants someone gave us fo an anniversary. And we remember with some fondness those grow bags the cat used to take a fly crap in, and the pleasantly wiffy plants and their pretty offspring.
Now we can have all sizes of tomatoes on plants which ripen them progressively and seemingly in cooler parts of the house and the near extremities of the summer.
Extremities though do have their finite horizons, and we now have a sizeable crop of green fruits from button sized to 'biggy' marbles hugeness as winter marches over our fields once summer. So I thought back to those craft fairs and the odd visiting gifts in re/used robinson jam jars disguised with string bound chequed cheese cloth bonnets round their lids. Chutney and pickles and home made jams. A concurrent and somewhat lingering crop of rhubarb lay in a sad little sprawl as the last-man-standing in the six by four earthy bit we hope may become a vegetable garden and not a potential venue for mud wrestling.
Here then is what I threw together, and it tasted magic> Branston What?
500g of green tomatoes
150/200g of Ripe rhubarb
250g of demerrera sugar / aka brown sugar but that has a heroin connotation
500 ml of vinegar , good quality if you can> i made a little economic cocktail of 200 ml Red Wine Vinegar, 100 ml balsmic vinegar and 200ml of a nice sharp brown vinegar.
Two challotes, large, chopped quite coarsly
Half a red onion
A handful of raisins (couldnt get sultanas)
A small palmful of dried cranberries
Two fresh or dried figs, 'filleted'
Two pinches of salt and freshly ground pepper, two teaspoons of chilli flakes or powder,. a desert spoon of corriander seeds, a pinch of cumin seeds or powder, two teaspoons of curry powder, two teaspoons of mustard seeds, three clove sticks , two teaspoons of ginger powder or finely chopped ginger, a large bay leaf, three cardemonn pods.
Yessirreee this is a spicey, heavily laiced concoction. The leaves and the pods need fishing out after.
Chop up the tomatoes into one centimeter type bits / quatering cherry sized tomatoes that is.
Dry heat the curry powder, chilli, ginger and some of the seeds for a couple of minutes on a medium heat, then add the onion and stir until the spices are taken up. Cast in the chopped tomatoes and add about 25ml of water and stir these up on a higher heat. Put the lid on for two minutes. Add 25 ml more water and the chopped rhubarb and simmer quite hard for another five minutes Then add the vinegars and boil up for 5 minutes, before then throwing in the sugar and the rest of the spices, the dried fruit and reducing the heat to a good bubbling simmer, striing and taking care it doesnt stick or burn, for up to an hour or so until it thickens and looks pretty much like a dark chutney.
Boil up jars and their lids, and when the concotion has cooled a lot, but is still a bit warm, stuff it in with just a small air space, and get the lids on tight so they seal once the header air cools and contracts.
For the crumble top you can find any old recipie and it is like making dry mud pies with your hands. I used a well milled whole meal and spelt mix with just a little white flour up in it, and added the brown sugar towards the end of the finger squishy mixing time. Nutmeg is nice in it, a pinch of salt can help it too. Baking soda is good to keep it light.
Enough for five or six folk:
I cut fine about 150 g of rhubarb, while having nice chunks of 350 g. I boiled the small stiuff with just 100ml water and a tespoon of cinnamon, for 5 minutes until they became jam like and added about 150g of fructose sugar. Then i added anbout 50 ml water with the chunks and a pinch of salt. Boil up then simmer until the fruit is softened but still has some texture, about a further 8 to ten minutes checking often. Add lemon juiice if it is not tart enough, or add more sugar if it is too tart. Add water 25ml at a time if the mix is too thick under simmering. Preheat oven to 200'c non fan, 190 fan oven.
The cooked fruit should be about 2 cm deep in a baking dish or pyrex form or caserole. The cover should be about one and a half to two deep, being about 500 g total flour. Spoon in, bake for 15 mins and check it, then bake for up to another ten minutes checking to see if it is browned and the whole of the crumble is cooked through.