Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sun Dried Tomatoes

A while back, I was speaking to someone on the phone and they said "So, what are you doing this afternoon?" and I replied "Planting an orange tree". As you do.

I didn't mean it sound that way but, in retrospect, how impossibly bucolicly (is that a word?) southern European "Year in Provence" does the prospect of an orange tree planting afternoon sound?

But alas the reality was more disappointing than the idyllic image suggests. We bought an orange tree shrub for €50 in what passes for Flores' closest equivalent to Homebase - bloody racket as orange trees are growing rampant all over this island and you squish oranges that have dropped on the road as you drive by. So why didn't we graft a stem from a native tree? - yeah, well, whatever ...

So the orange shrub was planted in our garden amidst great ceremony. Carol even insisted on giving it a name. Larry was the obvious choice given that the Portuguese word for an orange tree is laranjeira. But the results were - as Professor Denzil Dexter so memorably put it - disappointing.

That's Larry in the middle of Graham (the grass) looking distinctly peaky ...

How did I get on to this? Oh yes - another southern European activity par excellence - sun drying tomatoes. People ask us "how do you sun dry tomatoes?" The answer could not be simpler - you cut them into quarters and leave them out in the sun to dry. Really. That's what you do. Which bit of sun-dried tomato drying don't you understand exactly?

Except there's been another problem. Tony and Terry the tomato plants have obliged with oodles of fruit BUT NO FLIPPING SUN!

Seriously - you need some major-league ray-gun sunshine to dry a tomato before it goes mouldy. You can probably take that sort of sun for granted in Tuscany but not on Flores, an island in the middle of the ocean where it's prone to be cloudy from time to time. It worked last year when the BBC's sun-drying quotient was as high as the pollen count but this year has been a wash out. I blame global warming.

It's a reflection on island life that, as it was sunny this morning (and with satellite prognostications looking good), Carol tentatively put out a tray of Tony and Terry's finest. Then, off we went to Lajes for the shops. On the way back, we stopped to cut some hydrangeas. I was about 100 metres from the car plucking the finest blooms when I became aware of Carol shouting at me - I hasten back towards the car - whatever's the problem? "It's beginning to rain - we have to get home to rescue my tomatoes before they re-hydrate!".

Long, short - Plan B - put them on the dashboard of the car where it's always effing hot (and dry) even when a bit cloudy:-

Mental note - on reflection muslin cloth not necessary in car as no flies. Learning curve. Nobody said country life was easy. Hugh Fearnley-Whatsname please take note.


Suze said...

Eek - €50! That must have been a pre-recession acquisition. Don't give up on Larry though. I thought I had lost several rose bushes to the sub arctic winter we enjoyed last year but only today I spotted a green shoot on one of the very dead looking twigs. I think tomatoes can be dried in the oven. I believe it takes hours at a very very low temperature which could make the kitchen pretty unpleasantly hot but it's maybe worth considering.

Neil King said...

Carol has pointed out Larry actually cost €20 but given my reluctance to spend money it felt like €50. Don't worry, Larry is safe for now as the lower part of his trunk still looks greenish and you never know what may sprout. I think we're some way off groaning in despair at what to do with all those oranges though ...

Our oven doesn't get low enough to do tomatoes. And anyway they wouldn't be sun-dried would they?

Suze said...

No not sun dried. I think the technical term would be oven dried. Still, at least you have some decent weather. I can't even get my washing dry never mind tomatoes!

Kathie said...

Tomatoes (and laundry) aren't the only things to be sun dried in the Azores!

One time I was walking on the sidewalk along the ocean front street from the center of Velas, São Jorge, back to my hotel when I gradually realized I was starting to smell something, uh, funny. As I proceeded the odor got stronger and more unpleasant, to the point that after half a block I started feeling as though I might soon be sick.

Finally I spotted the culprit atop the outer wall of a private home -- a diagonally-slanting rack basking in the afternoon's brilliant sunshine, with several long narrow strips of some sort of white-fleshed fish attached, drying. As I neared, the smell became so vile that I had to hold my breath -- I'd occasionally exhale, then inhale through my sleeve, whose fabric diluted the stench just enough to keep me humiliating myself by retching publicly. Despite that obstacle, I managed to snap a few quick shots of the scene, for the record. I wondered if someone had caught, then was drying a bit of Portugal's legendary bacalhau (salt cod) for home use.

The following week I was showing my São Jorge photos to a friend in Angra do Heroísmo, Terceira, who identified the fish as eel. All I could think was that I was so relieved to be vegetarian, and thus have a ready excuse never to have to eat the offending item!

Kathie said...

Just checked my old photo: The wall was ACROSS the street from the house, not alongside it. I can understand why the folks drying their fish wanted to locate the operation as far as possible from their home without actually being out of sight -- although that wouldn't have been nearly far enough to suit me.

Food-drying tip of the week: Probably not such a great notion to dry fish inside the car on the dashboard (or any other part of the vehicle, for that matter).

Sarah said...

I have inverse problem - loads of sun but not enough ripe tomaotes (been too hot and dry). What would you like me to bring (for under a tenner - in total!)