Sun? Oven? What's the difference?

Isn’t it just the way? You wait all winter for a nice home-grown tomato and then wouldn’t you just know it? A couple of hundred come along all at once!

The greenhouse is currently the horticultural equivalent of a sweatshop, packed full of tomato plants all pumping out fruits at an obscene rate of knots. Far too many tomatoes for us to eat so we’re struggling to stay on top of things. Nice problem to have, so try not to feel too sorry for me as I moan.

I was idly making pizzas the other evening when a solution presented itself. Adding the various toppings, I opened the jar and spooned out a few leathery sun-dried tomatoes onto the dough. Ah hah!

Home-made sun-dried tomatoes ticks a lot of boxes – a good way to use up the tomatoes, should last for ages, we eat loads of them and they cost a small fortune to buy in the shops. Off we go, then.

Now I should confess, what follows is actually a way to make oven-dried tomatoes. As you may have twigged by now, South London is not exactly Mediterranean, and drying the tomatoes in the glorious sunlight would take rather a long time.

Nevertheless, the end result is the same, and it’s dead easy. Chop your tomatoes in half and put them on an oven tray. Sprinkle with salt and olive oil and then put them in the oven. That’s it.

Unless you’re planning on using the oven for something else in the near future. You see, it does take rather a long time to make these babies. You want the oven nice and low, about 50c, and you need to leave the tomatoes in for about ten hours. Which rather limits your options if you want to cook anything else, and you have to remember to start cooking these at the right time – late evening or early morning, I guess.

And I suppose the cost of leaving your oven on for ten hours would probably goes some way towards a few jars of shop-bought tomatoes.

But the good news: they taste amazing! For starters they are much brighter red then the wrinkly prunes you pull out of shop-bought jars, and you can also stop cooking them when you want. I took the ones in the pic out when they were still nice and juicy and before they dried out too much.

Once you’ve cooked them, stick them in a sterilised jar with a few cloves of garlic and some thyme. Cover them in extra virgin olive oil and they should keep for six months.

One thing to watch for: if you put the jar in the fridge then the olive oil will probably turn a bit cloudy as its temperature drops. This will have the unfortunate effect of looking like your tomatoes have gone mouldy. They haven’t – just take the jar out of the fridge, or indeed just ignore the cloudiness and carry on regardless.


On the (brand new!) ipod while preserving: nothing. Still trying to figure out how to get the bugger set up properly.


In a far-flung corner of the galaxy a blackberry-coloured volcano destroys a planet seemingly made of delicious-looking crumble

When I’m not gardening I like to get out my telescope and scan the stars, marvelling at the wonder of the universe we live in.

I was idly passing the time doing just this the other night when – imagine my surprise – I stumbled across a star I hadn’t noticed before, winking at me in a distant corner of the sky!

A twiddle of the relevant dials on the telescope sharpened the focus, and I couldn’t believe my eyes! There, staring at me down the lens, was another planet! And not just any planet, a planet with mountains and hills so beautiful they looked as if they were made of crumbs of sugar, flour and butter!

But it gets even more amazing! The surface of the planet was covered in adorable little green aliens, running around playing games and generally having lots of alien fun. I marvelled at this joyous scene, but as I watched transfixed a terrible thing started to happen.

The crumbly surface started to tremble and shake. Great cracks appeared, as what looked like a volcano erupted plumes of hot lava across the planet’s surface. This lava was like none I had ever seen before – not red, but a dark purple. Blackberry-coloured, if you will.

At this stage I snapped out of my reverie and reached for the camera. Unfortunately for interplanetary relations, the little green aliens had fled for safety, no doubt fearing for their lives, so I didn’t get a picture of them. I did however capture the apocalyptic landscape, the carnage memorialised here for all to see.

On a completely unrelated topic, here is the recipe for the Blackberry and Apply crumble we’ve been eating chez Drooling this week:
Blackberry and Apple Crumble

For the filling:

5 Bramley / cooking apples, cored, peeled and sliced

400g blackberries

pinch of cinnamon

300g sugar

For the crumble topping:

2 parts flour

1 part butter

1 part sugar

Gently fry the apples in a little butter for a few minutes. Add the cinnamon, sugar and blackberries and cook until cooked through. Pour into a ove-proof dish. To make the topping, whizz up the three ingredients together and then spoon over the fruity filling. Cook at about 200c until it looks golden brown on top (about 30 mins).

(For quantities of topping, go with however much you want, depending on whether you want a thick or thin topping. About 200g flour generally works well with this amount of filling)

Footnote: for US readers of the blog, the crumble is the British version of a cobbler. Go on, give it a whirl!

On the ipod while cooking: David Bowie / Space Oddity. Ground Control, you’re not going to believe what I’ve just taken a photo of….


You may remember back in the spring when I bought a bunch of balckberry plants off the internet and stuck them in the ground at the allotment, rhapsodising about the heavy cropping that would ensue in just a few months?

Well, have a look at the photo of my breakfast at the top of this post: salivate as you watch that thick, glossy blackberry jam melt over the piping hot, fresh-baked granary toast! Marvel at how rich nature’s bounty is! Perhaps even feel a little jealous as you sigh “Damn you Drooling, you live a life I can only dream of!”

Next, guess what? There’s absolutely no connection between the two paragraphs above.

Yes, I’m afraid that once again Mother Nature has flipped me the finger. I spent hours comparing tasting notes for a myriad different blackberry varieties before carefully making my choice – two heritage varieties, chosen specifically for their rich flavour and plump berries.

Said bushes were planted and have had hours of attention lavished on them. They look quite happy and have repaid me by producing – oooh – at least 7 or 8 berries so far. And that rich flavour? Best described as “vinegary, with subtle undertones of bleach”.

Not a great triumph. However, just next to the carefully tended blackberry bed is a large, heavily shaded patch of my plot which I have left fallow. I strimmed it back in the spring and then pretty much ignored it, casting a blind eye while head-high brambles shot up.

“Next year’s project”, I thought. And then the brambles all started flowering, and before I knew it I have so far harvested just over 3 kilos of gorgeous-tasting blackberries.

Go figure.

It would be churlish to complain, and I shall try to ignore the lesson screaming to be learnt here: “just ignore everything and you’ll be much better off. ” I’m not sure the rest of the patch would benefit from quite such a shabby approach to vegetable husbandry.

For the time being though, who’s complaining?

Blackberry jam

Equal parts blackberries and jam / preserving sugar

1 lemon

Put the blackberries and the sugar in a saucepan with the juice of the lemon. Bring to a gentle boil. Stir regularly. Not sure if that makes any difference but it is wonderfully soothing to do so.

When the jam has set stick it in jars. To test if it has set, pop a saucer in the fridge. Drip a spoonful of jam onto it and wait a few seconds. Push the jam with your finger and if it’s ready you’ll see some wrinkles on the jam.

Before sticking the jam into the jars I boil them for a few minutes in a big saucepan.

Not sure that’s the most scientific or effective way of making jam, but it tastes delicious and I’m still strong enough to knock out this post after a couple of weeks of eating it…

On the ipod while being a domestic goddess: The Jam / Greatest Hits. You didn’t think I was going to miss that opportunity did you?

Salad leaves

I know! Screw the recipe books and complicated preparation of expensive ingredients: let’s get some leaves and put them in a bowl!  And eat them! Bear with me. I know it sounds crazy but it might just work!

Of all the things I eat, it’s fair to say that salad is one of the less exciting. There’s no great mystery, no magical transformation of ingredients into something thrillingly more than the sum of their parts. Just the picking and eating of some leaves.

And yet. Sometimes even ol’ Drooling can tire of fois gras. Occasionally the thought of oysters rockerfeller again is a bit much. Yes, sometimes the simple taste of a bowl of salad leaves lightly dressed is just right.

This is why several of my vegetable beds are given over to assorted lettuces and leaves. Last summer it was an unexpected success, allowing us to have a daily salad for almost nine months of the year. This was aided by salad guru Charles Dowding recommending some varieties that are particularly hardy in the cooler months.

This year things are off to a good start, although I haven’t quite got the succession planning bit right. The salad in the photo above is on the verge of bolting, but the next batch are only about 1cm high. Might be having slightly smaller portions of salad for a few weeks.

It’s definitely worth growing and it’s one of those veggies that taste massively different when home-grown. I know I’m going to sound like every other gardening bore, but you really can tell the difference. Really! The leaves are crisper and fresh-tasting, although they do tend to wilt a tad quicker than shop-bought lettuce.

I found this out to my cost when attempting to be neighbourly. I generously took a bag of salad leaves over to a friend as a thank you for some forgotten favour. Having picked the gorgeous leaves and tossed them in a bag an hour or two previously I proudly opened said bag to display the garden delights to our neighbour.

She smiled a polite smile, well, more of a wince really, as we both looked in the bag. Hurt by this less-than-effusive reaction, I followed her ungrateful gaze. Dear reader, if I had ironed the salad leaves before placing them in the bag they would have looked more appetising.

Still, if you eat them a little sooner than that after picking them, dressed with a little vinaigrette, you can’t go too far wrong.

Vinaigrette recipe

It’s over-egging it a touch to call this a recipe, but here you go…

8 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp vinegar (red of white wine vinegar works, balsamic is good. Malt vinegar not so much)

1 tsp mustard

That’s the basic vinaigrette. Whizz it all up in a cup with a fork and there you go. Add in other stuff as you fancy – citrus tastes are good (lemon / lime / orange juice), honey adds a sweeter taste and thicker texture, a teaspoon of marmalade is interesting. Try sesame or chilli oil instead of olive. I could go on for hours, but you probably get the picture.

The other joy is that you really can’t go wrong with this. If you get the proportions wrong and it tastes a little oily / tart etc then just add some more of the other ingredients until you get it right. You may end up with too much for tonight’s salad, but it lasts for ages so it won’t go to waste.

Happy tossing…

On the ipod while whisking: MC Solaar / T’inquiete. French rap. Two words you don’t often see next to each other. Some might say there’s a good reason for that. Moi, je dis “porquoi pas?”

Tastes better than it looks

Maybe it’s the recent sun, maybe it’s my earlier attempts to force it, but the rhubarb at the bottom of the garden has gone into overdrive in recent weeks.

This causes slight problems, as I’m the only member of the family who has an unambiguous liking for the pink and green stuff. Most other members of the Drooling clan turn up their noses and jam their fingers down their throat at the mere mention of the glorious vegetable (yup, it’s veg, not fruit, gardening nerds).

One child did somewhat undermine his vehement opposition by inhaling a large bowl of rhubarb crumble the other day, but by and large I face an uphill struggle trying to get the tribe to eat the stuff.

This calls for imagination, hence my visit to this site, possibly the best rhubarb-recipe-related site on the net. Thinking I’d go for some sort of cookie-related recipe, I baked a tray-load of Rhubard Custard Bars.

Unfortunately this revealed the only problem with the encyclopaedic website: no photos. Had I seen a pic of the finished product I’d have known that – as you can see from the above – it doesn’t look fantastically appetising, and more importantly it looks very much like it contains rhubarb. This is a problem when seeking to outwit small children with a hatred of the stuff.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the bars were unanimously rejected. Even my youngest, who was screaming “Cake! Cake! Cake!” when I opened the oven, threw his slice on the floor when he saw what it looked like.

For the record, it tastes delicious. More specifically, it tastes just like rhubarb that has been baked in a sweet custard and popped on top of a base that is somewhere between cake and crumble. If that gets you interested then read on for the recipe below.

Rhubard custard bars


150g self-raising flour

120g sugar

60g soft butter


225g sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tbsp flour

4 eggs beaten

1 tsp. vanilla

500g rhubarb

Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Blend the flour, butter and sugar together. Press into a 9×13 inch baking pan that has been lined with baking parchment. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Prepare the filling while the crust is baking: blend the sugar and flour, then add eggs, vanilla and diced rhubarb and blend well. Pour the mixture over the partially baked crust and continue baking for 30-35 minutes. Serve warm or cooled.

Meanwhile the search goes on for a way to make rhubarb palatable for the rest of the family…

On the ipod while cooking: Scouting for Gilrs / I wish I was James Bond.  It’s probably never going to happen for me and the Strachan either.

Don't they look delicious?

Well, planted rather than builded, but it’s Sunday as I type so forgive the hymnal references.

A trip to the allotment today to plant some Jerusalem artichokes kindly donated by my mate Richard.  I’ve planted 12 tubers, which should give me anything up to 16 kilos of artichokes.

More on the plants at a later date (they’ve never been to Jerusalem, you know. It’s a corruption of girasol, the Italian word for sunflowers – they’re related) but for now a little recipe.

Much excitement and antipation chez Drooling  as I prepared to roast the artichokes as an accompanyment for Sunday lunch. The audience watched eagerly, making enthusiastic noises such as “Are you sure they’re not meant to be peeled?” and “What are those brown bits? Is that dirt?”.

An air of delighted anticipation filled the house. Smaller members of the family played it cool, pretending they were reluctant. “Do we have to eat them Dad?” they feigned. They’re so funny!

Mrs Drooling joined in the jollity. “Eeuurgh!” she sqealed, claiming that is was in fact Globe artichokes she’s always liked, and not their almost-namesakes. So convincing were their hilarious protestations that they even declined to finish their portions, pretending they were full.

I chuckled along, joining in their fun. “Don’t worry about leaving them” I said,  “16 kilos more to eat this year!”

You don’t need me to tell you how their happy little faces lit up on hearing this joyous news.

Anyway, on to the recipe:
Roast Jerusalem Artichokes

(serves a family of 5 as a side dish. A bit too much for 1 if the other 4 decide not to eat them)

500-600g artichokes, scrubbed

a lemon

olive oil (not the good stuff)

salt and pepper

thyme leaves, a finely chopped handful

Heat the oven to 200c. Don’t bother peeling the artichokes (and anyway, if you try you’ll end up so little artichoke left you may as well not bother).

Chop them into the size you want (try and keep them roughly the same size, that way they will cook at the same pace). Take a roasting dish that can go on the hob, put in a few splashes of oil and gently fry the artichokes, making sure to coat the cut sides.

When everything is sizzling, squeeze over the juice of the lemon, season and chuck in the thyme leaves. Give it all a good stir and stick in the oven.

Take it out when it’s ready. That’ll be about an hour, but it will depend on your oven, what else you’ve got cooking at the same time, etc etc.

One last thing; they taste delicious, but they won’t crisp up like roast potatoes. And yes, they do make you parp. Thus allowing you to take sweet revenge on anyone who won’t eat them…