Out the front of my friend’s apartment block, in the little section next to the carpark they’ve converted into a vegetable garden, the tomatoes are waist height and flowering. I’m always terrified I won’t get the tomatoes in the ground in time, then I spend the next month saying, “I should stake them, I should stake them,” as they get tall, heavy and droop to the garden bed. I have to very carefully pull their long arms up and around the stake. Watch the tomatoes get fat and finally red. If you haven’t planted them yet, it’s not too late. Get them in the ground, there’s still enough time for them to grow, flower and fruit. Sarah says to get excellent tomatoes you have to sing to the plants, but the ones out the front are looking pretty good with only the occasional song wafting from a parked car’s radio – so I’ll leave that up to you.
This relish recipe is an end of summer recipe really, for when the tomatoes are so prolific everyone is sick of them. It’s a way of capturing that end of summer feeling in a jar, that fragrant tomato plant smell from reaching into the green and picking ripe red tomatoes, hot and bursting from the sun. But Sarah and I are eager for the flavours of summer. At the Victoria Markets there are beautiful Murray Bridge tomatoes from South Australia. They’re full of flavour and cheap enough for relish. The recipe comes from our friend Micka’s family. It is his Nonna Joyce’s recipe. In rural NSW where she lives she says the good ripe tomatoes haven’t appeared in the shops yet, but she’s waiting.
The recipe is one that Joyce adapted from a cookbook with all the local ladies’ recipes from the town, Finley where she has lived for the last thirty or so years. The ingredients are very 1960s Australian – it needs both Keens Mustard and Keens Traditional Curry Powder. They give the relish that perfect amount of spice.
Serve this relish with poached eggs at breakfast, or with pie at a picnic in the park, with cheese and crackers, or really whatever takes your fancy. It would be beautiful with some cold Christmas ham. When Micka was little Nonna Joyce would make Cornish pasties for all the kids and the relish was always the pastie’s companion. A grown up Micka describes his Nonna Joyce like a child would. He says she has curly red hair, soft white skin and smells like nice make up. He says the relish is like her: sweet but not too sweet, auburn-red like her hair. For Micka the relish tastes like home.
Joyce’s Tomato Relish
1 1/2kg ripe tomatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp Keens curry powder
1 tbsp Keens mustard powder
500g onions, chopped
2 cups brown malt vinegar
2 tbsp salt
½ tsp pepper
2 tbsp brown malt vinegar
1 cup of sugar
Skin the tomatoes by scoring a cross on their bums, dropping them into boiling water for a moment, then into cold water. The skin should rub off easily.
Have one bowl for the chopped onions and one bowl for the cubed tomatoes. Sprinkle both with a tablespoon of salt and leave overnight.
The next day drain off the liquid and place onions and tomatoes into a heavy based saucepan. Add the 2 cups of vinegar and bring to the boil. Combine curry powder, mustard powder, and pepper in a small bowl with the extra 2 tbsp of vinegar, mix to a smooth paste. Stir into the tomato mixture and simmer slowly for an hour. Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved and simmer for a further hour and a quarter. (Be careful here, that the relish doesn’t stick and burn at the bottom of the pan.)
Joyce says to bottle while still hot (have hot, sterilised jars prepared) and to seal the jars when cold. We normally seal the jars when the preserve is still hot, and when we made this with Micka on the weekend I managed, while bottling, to spill a jar of hot relish on myself and the kitchen. I looked like a horror movie extra splattered with red from head to toe. So, maybe wait until it’s cool to put the lids on.
This makes 4 smallish jars – we tripled the recipe with no problems.