A Tomato Story

Some years I have a bumper crop of tomatoes, growing in a tangle of vines straight up their eight-foot trellis to touch the eaves on the south side of my house.  The summer heat radiates off the bricks and bathes the tomatoes hanging in heavy clusters of red, orange, and yellow.  The scent envelops me as I walk by, earthy and green and fecund.  I gather baskets of them, and make sauces and sandwiches and give the rest away to friends.

Other years, like this one, the thin vines seem to shiver all of the cold, damp summer.  I wait anxiously for a few ripe tomatoes in late August or early September.  But whether a bumper year or a disappointing one, there are always plenty of green tomatoes left on the vines when the chill of late fall hits.

I gather these late bloomers and bring them inside before the first frost.  They aren’t as juicy or fragrant as those that ripened on the vine, but they are still better than supermarket tomatoes.  I have to keep an eye on them, because there are always a few that, in spite of a nurturing environment, good companionship, and benevolent oversight, go bad and threaten to take the rest with them.  These must be firmly and swiftly dealt with.

Maybe you also have the summer’s last tomatoes, still slowly ripening on your kitchen counter.  And maybe, like mine, they refuse to ripen in orderly twos or threes, but rather in bunches that threaten to overwhelm your ingenuity.

This chutney is the perfect answer to the tomato problem.  It is a beautiful, deep garnet color that just cries out for you to taste a spoonful.  And when you do, it is sweet and spicy and sour and salty all at once.  It has a definite fiery kick from the cayenne, which brings back a bit of summer in every bite.  I’ve been spreading it on sandwiches and topping slices of cheese with a dollop.  It would not go amiss alongside roasted chicken either.

Tomato Chutney

(adapted from My Bombay Kitchen,via The Traveler’s Lunchbox)

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped   
  • 1/2 cup thinly-sliced garlic (about one large head)
  • 1/2 cup finely-julienned peeled ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups malt or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 to 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups turbinado/raw sugar, or half light brown and half white
  • 1 to 3 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt

First, open a few windows. Place all the ingredients (start with the smaller amounts given) in a heavy nonreactive pot and bring to a boil, stirring so everything gets well combined. Lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the chutney reaches the consistency of a soft jam. This will probably take at least 2 hours; you can speed things up by increasing the heat, but then you’ll need to remember to stir much more frequently. Particularly once it starts getting thick it can burn in a flash.

Adjust the balance of sugar, salt and vinegar while the chutney is still warm. Add more cayenne if you’d like it hotter.

To can for shelf-storage, sterilize four or five 8-oz jars.  Bring the chutney back to a rolling boil for 2 minutes, then proceed with your favorite canning method. Otherwise, it will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts; recipe can easily be doubled

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7 thoughts on “A Tomato Story

  1. Lin Hanson

    We have an Aero Garden for growing indoor herbs, etc. We tried putting our green tomatoes under the gro light, and were delighted to find they ripened fully and quickly there.

  2. Monet

    What a great way to use up some of your late bloomers. We had a very bad growing year to our drought, but I hope that next summer will be kinder to us! If so, I will be using this recipe for sure! Thank you for sharing, sweet friend. It is always a pleasure to read your work.

  3. Pam

    In spite of the cool, wet spring followed by a coolish summer, we have had am amazing tomato crop. Such abundance! Your posts are always appreciated. Thanks for taking time in your busy life to indulge your readers!

  4. Cristina

    I really luv your writing style – you’re an excellent writer. I have to say that I’m envious of your homegrown tomatoes. This tomato chutney would be very welcome in my kitchen and dining table. :)

    Hope all has been well and that you’re ready for the holiday season (I remember how busy and active you were from last year’s posts)!

    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Aww…thanks, Cristina! :) As for busy…I’m so busy that I’m just deciding that this is the new normal! It seems to help…

  5. Kendra

    Oh to have a tangle of tomatoes! My garden in the sky only yields a modest handful. I like the idea of this chutney. I might try this for my next food swap.


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