Have you any tomatas? Fanny and I regale on them every day…”
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 11, 1813
The first tomatoes are beginning to come in from my garden now, and if the green fruit on my vines is any indication of the bounty to come, my family will, like Jane, be “regaling on them every day”. I can’t wait! This is the first year we’ve actually had a successful crop (possibly due to my new raised beds next to the house that actually get watered!!) We’ve also tried a topsy-turvy planter– which looks odd, but seems to be thriving as well. This, at least keeps the cherry tomatoes away from the Early Girls so that we are finally getting large and small versions this year– instead of the cross pollinated medium sized fruits from years past.
Of course, tomato season also brings the onset of canning season. In the past we’ve canned peach and strawberry jam, apple sauce, pepper jam, pickles, beets and relish– this year though, I have high hopes of enough fruit to finally can tomatoes. To that end I’ve been reading up on recipes and found a fascinating one in Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell’s “New System of Domestic Cookery” (originally published in 1806) Ms. Rundell actually boasts recipes for Tomato Sauce à la française (2), à l’italienne (2), Tomato Ketchup (2), Marmalade, Preserves, Stewed Tomatoes, and Preserved Tomatoes for Soup.
What makes this list so impressive is that “tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s. One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard’s Herbal, published in 1597, and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England. Gerard knew the tomato was eaten in Spain and Italy. Nonetheless, he believed it was poisonous (in fact, the plant and raw fruit do have low levels of tomatine, but are not generally dangerous). Gerard’s views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies.By the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopædia Britannica stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups, broths, and as a garnish.”* So much so that by 1813, Jane Austen was regaling on them daily at Godmersham.
To Preserve Tomatoes for Soup
The tomatos should be perfectly sound and quite ripe. Peel them, take out the seeds and lay them in a large wide pan with plenty of pepper and salt. Lat them remain twenty-four hours for the juice to run out; then put the whole into a stewpan, and boil it very gently for an hour and a half, frequently stirring it. Put it into small jars, and when cold, tie them down; small jars are preferable to large ones, as frequent opening would spoil the tomatos.
This recipe calls for “hot packing” the tomatoes and tying the lids tight with paper and string. This, I would strongly discourage– although tomatoes are very acidic and usually keep well, when properly canned, it is important to make sure that you *do* properly can them to avoid botulism (unknown at the time of the recipe’s printing)
If you are unfamiliar with the canning process, pickyourown.org has a wonderful step by step instruction page with photographs for everything. If you are an experienced canner, then this will be an easy recipe to try– I know I’m looking forward to it! The salt and pepper will be a different taste from the garlic and lemon juice used in traditional tomato sauces, and just think of how delicious it will be to whip up some hearty soups this winter using your own canned fruits.
- Since there are no suggestions for number of tomatoes used, it should be noted that 7 large tomatoes will fill 1 quart or 4 half pint jars.
- Peeling the tomatoes is fairly easy with either a vegetable peeler, or by cutting an X into the bottom and scalding them in boiling water for a few seconds. Run them under cold water and the skins will slide right off.
Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book.
*Quoted from Wikipedia.com