12 Apr 2015

lemon almond cake, lemon sour cream cupcakes

Trust me on this one. I know it doesn't look like much, but trust me...

When I served F this buttercup-yellow lemon and almond cake for afternoon tea, she said lemon cake was her favourite. What serendipity! It’s one of my favourites too (I also have a soft spot for orange cakes, apple cakes, and plain buttery cakes).

A good lemon cake should be zingy and refreshing, with or without icing; it should be equally invigorating on a dull winter’s day or hot summer evening - though it must be said, at this time of year, with darkening days and chilly afternoons, a good lemon cake really shines. It lifts your spirits and your tastebuds. And if the recipes says juice or zest of one lemon, it can’t hurt to give a little extra squeeze or scrape, can it? There is nothing worse than a lemon cake deficient in lemon.

After that, I do not mind if the cake if fluffy as a cloud or dense and pudding like. Both these cakes are on the richer end of the scale, and this lemon-almond cake is definitely more pudding than cake – especially the next day, when the zingy icing has had time to soak in (a transformation like this reminds me of Nigella’s damp chocolate cake, which gets better over time). The word ‘squidgy’ springs to mind!

Cakes made with almond meal (or full-fat sour cream) are usually wonderfully moist. However, the fact I used a lot less meal than the recipe specified — my digital scales blanked on me while measuring the meal, and what I had already weighed out looked like an awful lot anyway — I’m sure is the main reason this heavenly, lemony slab was so good (I've made it since with the reduced quantity and it works every time). 'The best', as F later emailed me; so good that she did not share the piece I gave her to take home with anyone. So best I share the recipe with you.

Lemon almond cake
Adapted from Ross Dobson’s ‘Market Vegetarian’. The original recipe specified gently toasting 250 gms whole blanched almonds before whizzing them to make your own meal. However, I was feeling poorly — the cost of the blanched almonds would have made this a very expensive cake — and I had almond meal in the pantry.
  • Preheat oven to 180 and prep a 20 cm square brownie tin.
  • Cream 200 gms soft butter, 200 gms sugar and the zest of at least two lemons. Maybe a little more! Then beat in 3 eggs.
  • Now fold thru 75 gms plain flour, 1 tspn baking powder, and 175 gms almond meal.
  • Finally, stir thru at least 80 mls lemon juice. Maybe a little more!
  • Spoon the batter into your brownie tin, and bake in the oven for 30–35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean and the cake shrinks away from the sides a little. Rest on a wire rack, then remove from tin and cool a little before icing.
  • For the icing, combine 150 gms icing sugar with 2 tbspns of lemon juice. Yes ... maybe a little more! Pour over the cake. Lovely with a cup of earl grey, and even better the next day. I recommend eating this with a fork.

Lemon sour cream cupcakes
Another favourite lemon cake; Another lovely dense, moist texture. Adapted from AWW ‘Food we love’: I halved the recipe and made cupcakes.
  • Preheat oven to 170 and prep a 12-hole muffin tray.
  • Cream 125gms soft butter, the zest of at least two lemons and 1 cup sugar.
  • Beat in 3 eggs then the juice of one lemon.
  • Sift and fold thru 1 cup plain flour, half a ¼ cup of SR flour, and 90 mls sour cream.
  • Divide into the cupcake and bake for 20–25 minutes or until done.

29 Mar 2015

silver linings

Look what I came home to this week...

Yes, a stonking great big pile of beautifully aromatic woodchips, blocking my driveway. How so?

Recently I had to have a very large tree cut down, in order to avoid a neighbourly dispute. The tree, which my parents identified as a lily-pily, was huge, going upwards to the sky. Taller than my house, dense and dark. Birds roosted in it and chattered away as day drew to a close; it cast cool shadows over the house during the summer. It wasn't a beautiful tree, but it was a tree.

After I was asked to cut it down  - I shan't go into the reasons or the situation, but friends, let me tell you, I cried. For days - every time I left the house for work and passed the tree; every time I came home and passed the tree; every time I thought about it, I would cry. I would go to bed and my thoughts would return to that tree, and I would cry. I didn't plant this tree, but it was a tree, an old tree, a living tree, and I mourned its oncoming demise.

I get very emotionally attached to my plants. I suspect it's because I have no pets or children;  instead I transfer my love and care to the things I grow. Some trees, like the avenue of seven birch trees that my father helped me plant, or my new plum tree, mean infinitely more to me than any possible human (except my parents). The pink zepherine rose bush that my parents bought me a couple of years ago: when half of it got snapped away in some dreadful winds a few months ago, i came inside and heartily cried for its damage. Work might be frustrating, taxes and bills stressful, but the loss of any green thing in my garden will upset me dreadfully.

As quickly as possible, my dad organised G, an arborist who removed or cut back fire-damaged and dangerous trees for dad after the bushfires. I've met G a couple of times, so knowing him made me feel comfortable and reassured that my tree would be in good hands.

So one afternoon, G arrived, and over the course of a couple of hours, reduced the tree by about two-thirds its original height - it's now probably about two metres high, perhaps not even that. It was fascinating watching G work, especially towards the end when he was trying to shape the remaining bare trunks as best as possible. The difference between an arborist and a tree feller he told me, was that an arborist cares about the tree; a tree feller cares about the people. I liked that - I knew that we would meet my neighbours' demands but that my tree's life and health were his first priority; that it would be in good hands and would hopefully reshoot come spring; that these bare stumps may flourish back to life, green and happy.

G would cut down the tall limbs; when safe to do so, I dragged them away and hauled them in two piles on either side of my driveway. He remarked that I was a hard worker, but honestly, would I stand there and just watch someone work? I'm not strong by any means, but I like doing 'yard work' and it made me feel useful.

A few short days later, as promised, G came around while i was at work and reduced the stacks of leafy limbs to this pile of fine leafy woodchip. It was actually very exciting - I mean, what gardener doesn't like mulch? For me, it was the silver lining in the whole affair: I may have had to cut down a tree, but i could use its wood and goodness around my garden. There's a lot of light and warmth coming into the house now - great at this darkening time of year; though we'll see what that means in the hotter months next summer. And I've cleared out all the rubbishy plants that were beneath; I'll keep it clean and bare save for a lot of daffies and jonquils and grape hyacinths that need little attention but are so cheerful.

So, you know what I've been doing lately: shovelling and barrowing the woodchip out of the driveway. My biceps and back are groaning, and there's been copious cups of tea to power me thru. But something good has come from a distressing situation.
Below, the woodchip pile plus the cut down tree at left

22 Mar 2015

what i learnt this summer about growing vegetables

Nectarines from my tree, during the summer months

As summer draws to a close, here is a kind of memo to self for next summer:

Say no to broad beans. You don't really like broad beans that much - so don't plant them. Stick to what you like - and what doesn't get smothered in black aphids.

Don't sow so many seeds. By that, I mean don't sow them so close together in the one row. It just leads to too many plants crowded together, which leads to a lack of ventilation and that powdery mildewy stuff on your peas; and a damn tangle of stalks and leaves that makes it difficult to find the beans. Trust that what you sow will germinate; you don't need to be so 'just in case' here.

Don't plant so many plants. Three zucchini plants will be sufficient (maybe even two) - sufficient and enjoyable, rather than stressful. Three silverbeet plants will be sufficient. Yes, they will be. There is only one of you, remember.

Don't plant a grid of tomatoes. Because it's difficult reaching the one in the centre for maintenance, watering and harvesting. Stick to a square of tomatoes, all around the outside of the bed.

Oh, and you might want to remember applying the above rule to tomatoes as well. Yes you have an abundantly-stocked freezer ready for winter, but maybe ten plants is too many for one person. Stick to the varieties you really enjoyed: black krim, roma-style mamma mia, the apricot-coloured big beryl, and the abbruzese. Four or five may be sufficient.

Don't plant those trimmed off bits of tomato plant. Yes it's cool to think of growing extra plants from little discarded bits. But see above rules - the main plants will be sufficient. Remember, there is only one of you; only so much one can cook and roast and eat and freeze. And look after in the garden.

Repeat the carrots and beetroots. Especially the round little 'paris market' carrots (despite the aphids and ants they attracted) and the sweet orange beetroot. However, even though they looked pretty bordering the edges, don't do this around any beds you plan on netting (that is, the tomatoes).

Don't do corn. Yes it looked wonderful, the tassles and tops swaying in the breeze, but the plants were in the ground for soooooo long and actually produced very little. How many meals did you get - three? Four? Not worth it.

Try climbing beans and peas. Specifically the sweet 'lazy housewife' beans that really are your favourite. Remember, you are getting older - it's getting hard to scramble around amongst the dwarf bush beans. Just make sure your trelllises are wind-proof.

What have you learnt about growing vegies this summer?

15 Mar 2015

the best butter cake

Everyone needs a good butter cake recipe in their repertoire, and this now is mine. It is simple but rich, plain but oh-so-good. While a slice or two is wonderful say topped with roasted apricots, plucked warm from the tree and drizzled with honey, or with a dollop of tart stewed rhubarb, mostly I love these little cakes — made in my mini-loaf tins — just slightly warm and ‘as is’, with a cup of tea.

It is tempting here to pontificate on the value of baking with good-quality ingredients: creamy Tasmanian butter and super-large rich eggs from my mother’s happy hens. And yes, that holds true.

But, a confession … I’ve made this recipe a couple of times now when all I had to hand was soy milk, not milk-milk nor sour cream — and lite soy milk at that (I have it for my breakfast muesli). That breaks all the baking rules, right? But you know what? It worked just as well as the times I used full-fat sour cream. I couldn’t taste any difference; the cakes were just as rich and moist and I-think-I-need-another-one.

I must also reveal that once I misread the recipe and added three cups of flour, not two. Luckily I realised this before I folded that last cup in — so I upended the bowl and shook out as much as I could, then flicked off any remaining with my silicone pastry brush! I got most of it out, and added just a touch more (soy) milk to be on the safe side. As you can imagine, I am reading recipes very carefully now.

So this really is the best butter cake — no matter what you do to it.

The best butter cake
Adapted from an Australian Womens Weekly recipe, torn from the June 2013 edition. The recipe specified a 20cm round cake tin, but I’ve been using my mini-loaf tin (8 holes) and a couple of sturdy cupcake papers for whatever doesn’t fit.
  • Prep your chosen baking tin and preheat the oven to 180.
  • Cream 250 gm soft butter with 1 cup sugar and 1 tspn vanilla paste (I have also used the vanilla syrup-with-speckles) til wonderfully soft and creamy.
  • Beat in 3 large eggs.
  • Using a wooden spoon, fold in 2 cups SR flour and a pinch of salt.
  • Then fold thru 125mls milk (or other dairy, or dairy substitute).
  • Dollop into your baking tin and bake. I baked my smaller cakes for 20-25 minutes; the recipe specified 50-60 for a single large one. Once cooked, cool on a rack before turning out. Enjoy.

1 Mar 2015

garden share collective: march

I am exhausted.

I have reached that point of summer when I am just plain exhausted. When maintaining the vegie garden is a chore. No longer a relief after work, but another chore to fit in: watering, picking the beans and zucchinis - or as mum and I say, the beans and zucchinis and beans and zucchinis and beans and zucchinis ... our phone conversations lately go something like this: What did you do today? Oh, I picked more beans and zucchinis. And beans and beans and beans and beans? Yes, and more beans; just for a change. And what are you having for dinner tonight? Oh, I thought I'd have beans and zucchinis. What about you?

Yes, you can guess the response.
Luckily, the tomatoes have started ripening. Boom! Mum came up to help me pick my vegies - I had a breakdown one night over the phone and tearily pleaded for some parental assistance. So mum came over and got to pick my beans and zucchinis for a change. And at lunch she quipped to dad, isn't this pleasant, we're eating someone else's beans ... anyway, mum helped me pick bucket loads of tomatoes. As you can see above. She had warned me, somewhat ominously, only a couple of weeks earlier, that I'd have a lot of tomatoes ripening all at once.

And now I have, and I have trays lining my kitchen benchtop. I'm eating my way thru them merrily, but also cooking them. I think this was my real intention for the tomatoes all along: cooking them and squirelling them away for later. I have been roasting wedges of them, sometimes merely anointed with some olive oil and S&P, sometimes with herbs and garlic, then freezing them for winter use. For blitzing into a smooth sauce or probably just using them as is; they are such rich velvety wedges of tomatoey goodness.
Really, you can never have enough tomatoes. However, I may not have enough freezer space. Wow, do I need to ask santa for a second chest freezer out in the garage? I asked mum if I could rent some freezer space and she said, you'll be lucky.
But back to the garden. Watering is the other big issue, one that is breaking my heart. It's distressing to see how dry my garden is, despite mulch and my constant watering (or so it seems). Even though we have had a couple of 'big rain events' here in Hobart, it has overwhelmingly been a dry year so far (and the eastern shore where I live is notoriously dryer and warmer). I am just struggling to keep the water in the ground. And when it does rain, I am beginning to think that the mulch just stops the rain getting into the soil. I have become cynical about the rain and its unlikely appearance; I have become one of those people who view hot summer's days as a threat to the health of my garden.

So I am exhausted. There is a small part of me that realises autumn and the oppressing dark of Hobart's winter will soon be upon us, limiting gardening time and opportunities. But there is a small part of me that is also looking forward to the break that the winter season will bring.

22 Feb 2015

toasted muesli

A recent conversation at work got me thinking some more about something I already think about a lot: making our own food.

Do you like making your own? How much of your own food do you make? And on the flipside, what are we happy to buy that’s ready-made or processed? Where is the line?

Whether you work full time or not, have family or not, what time constraints stop you from making your own food — or not?

And the biggie — do we, should we care? Is this something you think about too?

A microwave meal has never darkened my doorway (and yes, you can detect the moral undertones in those words). Yes, sometimes I’m tired and grumpy after a day at work, but I would never think ‘oh, I’ll get something to heat up on my way home’. Eggs-on-toast is this lazy girl's fall-back; even lazier are the single portions of home-made soup in the freezer, squirrelled away for just such evenings.

It would not cross my mind to pop a cake in my shopping trolley, or get a savoury quiche or pie for dinner that night. Why, when whatever I can bake would be tastier and probably healthier? And I take great pleasure — and yes, pride — in making my own tomato pasta sauces.

But … I buy the tinned tomatoes for the sauce when it’s not tomato season. I collect and freeze panettones at Christmas time, anticipating rich bread and butter puddings in the winter months. I have a last-resort stash of muesli bars in my yoga bag, for the times a banana is not enough to fuel me thru two hours of downward dog. And (my guilty secret) I have a canister of savoy crackers, hidden in the pantry, for those times when only mindless salty crunching will satisfy.

I also recognise my technical limitations. Yeast and I are not friends, so I cannot bake my bread. And it would never cross my mind to make my own cheese or yoghurt; maybe I’m fudging definitions here, but I think of dairy products like cheese and butter as ‘ingredients’ for my own cooking and baking.

The comment that originally set me off was ‘oh, if only I had the time’. But I thought to myself: isn’t it about making the time? If it is something that you truly value, don’t you find the time to make a big pot of sauce, a week's supply of slow-cooked casserole, or a tray of berry muffins? If what you eat is truly important to you, doesn’t that make it a pleasure, not another chore on the to-do list?

I know many would say I’m lucky: I’m single, without a family to look after. But I work full-time, and have a house and garden to manage and maintain; I am not some Carrie Bradshaw wafting around with endless glamourous hours to spare.

Not long after the conversation that set all this off in my head, I pulled the weekly supermarket catalogs from my letterbox and surveyed just how many pages are devoted to products, many of which could be home-made: tinned soups, cartons of custard, iced cakes, morning-tea biscuits, roasted chooks or trays of marinaded meats, ready to pop in the oven. Potato salads, microwave rice meals, and of course, frozen pizza.

One could apparently eat without ever having a real ingredient — say, a carrot or an egg — enter the kitchen (that side of processed food also alarms me: the unnecessary amounts of fat and sugar and salt that cannot be nutritious and must surely be harmful in the long term. I want to be in control of what is in my food, and I want it to be real and healthy).

I don’t think making your own means you’re back in the dark ages, labouring away all day; but I think some people (like my workmate) must think that (which must account for the success of Jamie Oliver’s 30 and 15 minute cookbooks, overcoming our fears of hours in the kitchen). And as I’ve said, I don’t think making your own has to mean making absolutely everything; life’s too short and one has to be sensible; of course I recognise that. But surely life is also too important to rely on mass-processed food from a factory; to hand over all the work to unseen hands.

I’d be interested to know where your ‘line’ is, because I know I can get judgmental about things like this (don’t tell me you haven’t felt the same while checking out the contents of other shoppers’ supermarket trolleys).

What processed foods are you happy to let in your kitchen? What would you never let in?

Toasted muesli
Adapted from an Anneka Manning recipe. Toasted muesli is not something I have to make, but it's a easy crunchy treat, and you can control the sugar levels. Also, I love that there's no oil in this recipe, as I've seen in other recipes. I make this for a weekend treat, though it's also perfect sprinkled crumble-like over stewed fruit for a speedy pudding. Double the quantity if you wish; it magically lasts in an airtight container for weeks.
  • Preheat your oven to 160 and line at least two baking trays.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine 3 cups rolled oats, 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, 1/4 cup walnut pieces (I've also used macadamia pieces), 1/2 cup shredded coconut, and 1/4 cup flaked almonds (I've used those ones edged in skin).
  • Sprinkle over a good tspn cinnamon.
  • Then pour over 1/2 cup apple juice, and stir thru til evenly combined.
  • Spread the mix over your baking trays; you don't want it too thick, so you may want another tray. Dribble over 2-3 tbspns honey (between all trays); I like using a Tasmanian one with a stronger, less-sweet flavour.
  • How long you bake it for depends on how toasty you like your toasted muesli, and how thick your muesli layers are. I bake for 10 minutes, then stir around so the mix gets evenly cooked, flip the trays in the oven; bake for another 10 minutes, another stir and flip; and so on until I'm happy. I usually do 30 or 40 minutes of baking time. Watch carefully towards the end - it doesn't take long for the muesli to go from toasty to charcoally, trust me!
  • Allow to cool a little before serving with milk or yoghurt; and cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Mix through dried fruits of your choice (I like sultanas and those soft pillowy apple pieces).

15 Feb 2015

zucchini cake / carrot cake

When life hands you zucchinis, make...
zucchini slice, zucchini spaghetti, roast zucchini, steamed zucchini, grilled zucchini, zucchini dipped in hummous ...

Yes, it's zucchini season chez Dig In. I love zucchinis (luckily), but there have been days when I have dreaded going into the vegie garden to see how many I will find, and how big they are. Because anyone who grows zucchinis knows: there's always one that gets away. That the day before was a wee petite thing, and the next was a granddaddy, a monster.

So yes, it's been 101 ways to cook zucchinis here. Okay, that is a slight exaggeration; I have settled on a couple of main ways of cooking them. The first is roasting them with olive oil and S&P; very simple, but it brings out the creaminess of the vegetable. It pairs well with chickpeas this way, as you can see in the picture above. I then toss the pieces through a warm salad or even squish onto grainy toast. I am experimenting with freezing some like this, to stir thru my tomato pasta sauce in the winter months.

Grilling them is fun, too:

I also love spiralizing zucchinis, especially when they are still slender. I use the spaghetti-like strands tossed thru a salad, squished on a salad breadroll (a surprisingly good lettuce substitute if caught short) and stir-fried; with other green vegies and again with chickpeas (it's a combination I find so delicious). I mean, how pretty is this?

When I was buying my spiralizer, I must say I laughed when the sales girl said 'these are so great, they help you eat so many more vegetables!'. I don't need help eating more vegies, I said, I need more exciting ways to eat them. It's novelty value but hey, it works for me.

Finally, the best way of eating any vegetable, must surely be as cake. So, when life hands you zucchinis in excess and you can't give them away, make cake:

Using my new mini-loaf tin! Again, there's some novelty value attached to turning out these sweet little loaves, but every baker deserves a new tin every now and then, surely.
This recipe though was a bit bland; they needed lots of lemon drizzle on them to be enticing. But then, a week later, I made mini carrot cakes:

Mini carrot cakes so moist and rich, full of flavours from mixed spice, brown sugar and boozy sultanas. Mum actually said you couldn't tell it was carrot cake, the spice and sherried sultanas so potent. But who has ever had a wodge of carrot cake and said mmmmm, so carroty? I rest my case.
I gave T one of these carrot cakes, and when I sent her the recipe, I had a brainwave. This could be a zucchini cake! Sometimes my own genius scares me ... So, here we go, an all-purpose recipe you can use whether you have a glut of carrots or zucchinis. Or pumpkin maybe! Or beetroot, or parsnips, or ... okay, I'll stop now.

Zucchini cake / carrot cake
Adapted from a 'Super food ideas' magazine.
  • A week or two ahead of time, start soaking 3/4 cup sultanas in sherry. If you prefer a non-boozy version (huh?!) or you forget to do this, on the day soak your sultanas in hot tea, just to plump them up. But I recommend the boozy option.
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep your baking tin. I used my mini loaf tin (8 loaves) plus 4 holes of a muffin tin; the recipe specified a deep 20 cm round tin.
  • Gently toast in the warming oven 3/4 cup walnut chunks; do keep your eye on them.
  • Grate enough zucchini to get 1 1/2 cups.
  • In another bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 3/4 cup vegie oil or light-flavoured olive oil, 1/2 cup golden syrup, and 3 large eggs.
  • Sift into this 1 cup SR flour, 1/2 cup plain flour, 1 tspn bicarb soda, and generous 1/4 tspn each cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice (or whatever spice combination you like. I'm always heavy-handed with the mixed spice).
  • Stir in the grated zucchini, sultanas (drained if a lot of liquid, though a little extra sherry certainly won't hurt) and the toasted walnuts. You can also add the zest of one orange for even more flavour.
  • Pour into the pans. If you are using mini-loaves or muffin sizes, try for 20-25 minutes or until done. If a single large tin (which I have not used), the recipe specifies 60-70 minutes or until done. The cakes should be cooked but still moist.
  • When done, stand the tin on a rack to cool for a few minutes before turning out to cool completely.
  • PS I know there are some people who say 'the best bit of a carrot cake' is the cream cheese frosting, but I'm not one for all that gooeyness at home (and especially not in summertime). Hence, no cream-cheese frosting recipe. And if that's the best bit of the cake, then there's something wrong with your cake. Enjoy.

8 Feb 2015

what I learnt this summer about growing tomatoes

Last year I grew four tomato plants, and it was a bewildering, alien affair. Growing tomatoes is not like growing peas or beans or carrots or beetroot — which are essentially, 1) poke seed in ground, 2) water and feed, 3) harvest.

This year dad gave me ten tomato plants for my expanded vegie garden. He grows his plants from seed; a beautiful, rich heirloom variety of colours and shapes and tastes and names. So I have black krims (my absolute favourite for their colour, texture and taste), green zebras, pereforma abruzzese (new for us, and it’s a big sturdy giant of a plant), mamma mia, big beryl, kellogg’s breakfast, green grapes.
So with more plants in the ground, I needed to lift my game. I needed to learn and understand how to grow tomatoes. Well, learn, at least — some of this I just do, even if I don’t comprehend the reasons behind the actions. In a previous garden share, it was suggested that I get dad to give us a tutorial. So here it is of sorts: Dad showed me on his tomatoes what he does; I came home and practised on mine; and this is what I came up with. Now tending my tomatoes is not stressful or strange, but purposeful and even meditative. It’s almost like editing: whittling away at the weak and superfluous, making space for the strong and wonderful to shine.

Snip out laterals. The easiest thing. Imagine your tomato plant is a series of Ys. Stems, branches — Ys. A lateral is a soft little shoot that pops up between the arms of those Ys. Pick it out with your thumb and forefinger if it is fledgling, or a pair of scissors if longer (I find a pair of small but slim scissors is good for tomato work, better than secateurs). They are superfluous, so out!
I've already removed one lateral here, and it's popping out more! Determined little thing.

Shape your tomato tree. Continuing the motif, dad grows his tomatoes like one big Y: a main trunk which branches out to two main stems, off which your leaves and fruit will grow. Think of it almost as a standard, so trim away lower soft off-shoots and bottom branches. I’ve seen dad take it to extremes — the bushes almost look skeletal. I’m not that ruthless. So I have a lot more side branches than dad, even though I have established an approximate Y shape.

This trimming helps focus the plant on its fruit, and also helps with ventilation, which helps with pollination. Tomatoes apparently do not pollinate by bees; the flowers pollinate themselves, dropping their pollen in the breeze. So if you have an airy plant, the flower stems can do a little shake in the breeze and sprinkle their pollen about.

I also figure if air can circulate around the plant, there’ll be less chance of disease, and more light to ripen the fruit.

Trim the fruit branches. This was a bit trickier to photograph for you. If you have leaf growth come out after the flowers (on the same stem), then trim it off. Here you can just see a stem, its flowers, and then some more leaves hanging off below. Cut those leaves off, otherwise the plant will put its goodness into growing the leaves, not your fruit.
Some of my plants also grew large leaves (reminding me of monsterios) so I trimmed them off, on the same basis.
Hmmm, must darn gardening top...
Tie up your plant. Ha, now we’re getting to the kinky stuff. As you trim, tie up your plant to the stakes (woop, backtrack here: Dad whacks four stakes around each tomato plant; at first these are used to hold the plastic bag-like guarding we use around each young plant to protect it from wind, but once the plant is strong and the guarding removed, the stakes are used for tying the plant up).

Tying up the plant will help it grow strong and upright, and protect branches from breaking off, either in strong winds or under the sheer weight of your bounteous tomato crop. Tomatoes can be heavy; some of my abruzzeses are massive!

I believe in lots of twine, and tying branches back to the stakes even if they look really sturdy; just in case; better safe than sorry. And heck, it’s only twine; less than $10 a spool from the hardware shop.

Dad gives his a couple of twists in the middle between plant and stake; I’ve adopted the looping method, which reminds me of looping woollen scarves round my neck in the winter time (or last week).
Repeat often. All these steps — laterals, leafy bits, trimming, tying up — need to be done through out your plant’s growth. It helps keeps the plant supported and putting all its energy into big luscious fruit — which is what it’s all about.

However, I will admit two things:
  • I didn’t start doing this until very late December, until Dad’s lessons. So there was a lot of leaf growth to wade thru at first, a lot of ‘re-structuring’ to do, and some branches were growing almost horizontal! But no harm was done; the stems were still soft and flexible enough for me to secure against stakes and pull back to an upright position. It was just a lot more work than doing a little bit regularly as the plants grew
  • unfortunately, this went out the window once I netted my tomato bed a week or two ago, against the blackbirds. The net turned out to be too small and therefore stretched so tight that it’s a pain to lift and re-peg. So while I wait for the hardware store to get a supply of larger nets, I’ve not done any trimming. Which bugs me now I know how important it is! And I miss the work: it’s a good way of regularly checking your plants and fruit.

Wash your hands. Dad said the sap from the plants can sting your eyes, so take care while working and wash your hands thoroughly once you’ve finished. Actually, scrub your hands: I have thought my hands clean and when I dried them on a towel, the towel became very dirty. So obviously tomato sap is very strong stuff!
I haven’t covered watering, or feeding, and only briefly touched on netting your fruit. Let me just say, netting is essential if you have birds in the neighbourhood. There is nothing more upsetting than coming home and finding an almost-ripe tomato you had your eye on pecked to pieces (you could probably hear me cursing from there).
Ugly but essential.
But watering and feeding are straightforward. I wanted to record here all the nitty gritty things dad showed me this summer. I have lots of big fruit on, so obviously this is working — we just need some consistent sunshine now to ripen it all! Then hopefully I shall be drowning in tomatoes; I think we would all agree a glut of tomatoes is no bad thing.
If you have any other tomato-growing tips, I would love to hear them!

Why we do it.