"WHAT THE FUCK HAS HAPPENED TO MY TOMATOES?!" I screamed.
It seems, my good friends that my beloved tommys had succumbed to that deadly affliction known as 'Black Bottom'. Or Blossom end rot as it is more commonly called (I made Black Bottom up). But what is Blossom end rot? And why did it strike down my crop? Well it's very simple. BER occurs when there is a calcium deficiency due to dry conditions at the plant roots inhibiting it's uptake. A lack of calcium will cause cells to collapse and discolour thus so and also a very acidic growing medium will increase the problem. To take preventative measures and control the situation you should ensure that the plant gets an adequate and regular water supply. If BER does develop, remove all affected fruits and improve irrigation.
I didn't know this by the way. I read all this from my copy of The Royal Horticultural Society Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, trying to find out what the problem was. I should pick it up more often really as my approach to growing fruit and veg does steer towards the lackadaisical side sometimes. I just stick it in the ground, water it, feed it, watch it grow and then scratch my head when it all goes wrong*. And boy can things go wrong. At the back of the compendium there is an A-Z of plant problems, all of which sound very malicious. These include 'Clubroot', 'Manganese deficiency', 'Thrips', 'Fusarium Wilt', 'Phytophthora' and the terrifying 'Badgers'. (Which is basically 'When Badgers attack!'..........your sweetcorn, courgettes etc etc). So after reading up on BER, I marched straight back out into the garden, taking the advice of removing all affected fruits. Unfortunately I was a tad overzealous in my mission and soon discovered that I had taken a fair few decent 'unaffected' tomatoes that really could have been left on the plant to ripen. After realising what I had done and left clutching a large bowl, the black bottom situation was lurching from bad to worse.
I tested this recipe for her by the way, got an acknowledgement in the back and everything. Whenever I spot the book on the shelves in Waterstones, I'll often grab a copy, accost a member of staff and make a point of getting them to read my name out after which I'll punch both fists in the air and shout "That's me!" It's very boorish and immature but I can't help myself.
Anyway, I have had Celia's book for a while now and haven't delved into it for some time but after scrambling around for the curry recipe, I was reminded of all the fantastic vegetarian dishes that were in there. For the coming months and with produce from the allotment, I am definitely going to be cooking her Giant Pumpkin Pasty and chopping up her Hot and Sour Swede Cabbage Salad. Speaking of allotments, I think I would do well do continue flicking through Urban Farmer as the main thrust of the book is simply that, growing seasonal fruit and veg. Even though she takes a fairly straightforward, structural approach to the growing year, Celia's advice is friendly, witty and down to earth. As it is also part journal, the book also delivers a nice personal touch, highlighting the highs and lows of allotmenteering (or trials and tribulations as I like to say). Which is a bit more freshing and appealing than dull academic droning tone of The Royal Horticultural Society, I can tell you that.
Celia's Green Tomato Curry
1 tsp fresh or dried coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
4 cloves of garlic
pinch of sea salt
4 tbsp virgin rapeseed or sunflower oil
50g raw cashew nuts
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 large onions, finely sliced (about 400g)
600g green tomatoes, cut in medium wedges
2cm piece of ginger, finely choppped
1 tsp turmeric
3 tbsp unsweetened dessicated coconut
3-4 small fresh red chillies, halved from stem to base
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
250ml plain natural yoghurt
boiled rice and coriander leaves to servemethod
Place the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, garlic and salt in a mortar and crush to paste. Set aside.
Get a small plate ready with crumpled kitchen paper for draining the chashews. Heat a wok or large wide pan over a medium high heat. Add the oil and then the cashews and stir until golden (this may take only a matter of seconds). Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on the kitchen paper.
Return the pan to the heat and add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop, add the onions. Fry briskly until onions are soft, golden and nicely caramelised.
Add the green tomatoes and fry for 3-5 minutes, until lightly coloured. Then add the gingerm turmeric, coconut, chillies, salt and pepper. Stir, then add the garlic mixture. Stir for a couple more minutes until fragrant, then remove the pan from the heat. Quickly stir in the yoghurt until evenly combined, then cover the pan and let it stand for 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning, then serve the curry over rice, topped with the fried cashews and decorated with coriander leaves.
Getting a workout in the wok