It’s that time of the year, with the recent arrival of autumn, when we can bottle up the last of summer’s offerings into jams, relishes, chutneys and more to savour in the months to come. Clearly, preserving is not as popular as it once was, but given preparing a simple bottle of tomato sauce or relish can be a job shared by the whole family, it’s a good memory-making kitchen activity and, unlike decades past, there really is no need to create a stockpile for a rainy day. Today all you need is enough to catch the summer bounty and preserve some memories.
Tomatoes, our number one selling vegetable, have been a favourite commodity in New Zealand for decades. Their importance in our shopping basket saw their appearance on the consumer price index in 1949 and they have never left. Interestingly then, they had an expenditure weight of 1.2 per cent of the total 60 food items sampled. In the latest stats of 2011, tomatoes had a weight of 1.5 per cent within the food group of about 160 sampled food items, clearly showing how in the face of more choice, tomatoes are more popular than ever and the market is growing.
In numbers then, today we slice, roast, preserve or chomp our way through 20,000 tonnes valued around $100 million — about the same amount we spend on potatoes and apples. Luckily though, the prices have not kept pace. In March 1949 fresh tomatoes had an average retail price of 1 shilling and 1 penny per pound. That’s about $9.10 per kg in today’s terms, allowing for general food price inflation. By comparison, the weighted average retail price in the March 2011 quarter was $4.40 per kg and as I write the price is about $3.99 per kg.
Last weekend, knowing everyone was home, I announced that it was time to make Nana’s Relish. The idea of having fresh stocks in the pantry was greeted with glee, though the kids quickly worked out whether to chop onions or tomatoes. The recipe was my grandmother’s and as it was a mainstay in her country home, think the war years, it’s pretty basic in both its ingredient list and instruction. It is, we could say, failsafe.
I can recall Mary-Ellen, who held Victorian attitudes to most things including the role of women to be at home (!), peeling and chopping onions and tomatoes. Crowned in a wide-brimmed hat with net to cover her face from the Tasmanian sun, she would sit down-wind at the rickety picnic table which sat alone under the wind-up clothes line in our spartan 1960s backyard. Whether my mum, busy with two little ones, was ready for the preserving onslaught was not considered; we all had to stop and it’s a tradition I have maintained!
Often the garlic was left out, it was “foreign muck”. The addition of cayenne, normally only ever used to sprinkle atop the tuna mornay, always made an appearance, as chillies — dried, fresh or flaked — were clearly keeping company with the garlic!
This relish is truly loved in my home. Avoid the sugar-loaded, tomato puree-based commercial relishes and seek out inexpensive non-trussed, non-packaged tomatoes, maybe seconds or heaven-forbid ugly shaped, road-side stall varieties. Make a batch this weekend and preserve some memories.
Ideas for use
- My favourite, toast, butter, cheese and relish for a weekend breakfast.
- Slather a leg or shoulder of lamb in one cup of the relish and roast covered for half the time and then uncovered until cooked.
- Added to a cheese scone mix.
- Pureed and served as a dip for chips — great when caught short and guests arrive.
- Served atop a baked potato with sour cream and/or grated cheese.