Best Tomato Salad


At the start of the summer, mum brought a courgette plant to London, and put it in a window box  on our west-facing balcony.

Isn’t parental love an amazing thing? I kill everything. Really, my gardening track record is woeful. But that’s not what a parent sees. Mum’s ability to overlook all my flaws, and doggedly focus on the good things, means that she keeps optimistically bringing more plants to Bethnal Green, in hope that this will be the one.

I really do try. The courgette has taken up an inordinate amount of time, discussion and analysis this summer. My flatmate, Charlie, and I have fed the thirsty thing litres and litres of water. When it looked a bit peaky, I mixed it up a little plant food, as one might make up a little porridge for a sickly child. “Perhaps it’s the soil” we wondered. And so I trotted down to the Full Stop coffee shop on Brick Lane where they give away bags of used coffee granules, and I lovingly mixed a handful into the soil, hoping that this might make our foreign visitor feel more at home.

Early-August, there was a glimmer of hope. Little nubbins which looked like they could grow into a globe courgette. But then nothing. Seriously, I’ve never come across anything so needy.

alive courgette plant

dead courgette

All of this reiterates how in awe I am of my mother, and her green, green fingers. When she visited last week, she didn’t know about my failed courgette. So instead of bringing another sacrificial plant for my window box, she brought boxes of bounty from her garden: apples, blackberries and tomatoes.

If I could grow any one plant, it would be tomatoes. I’m not even going to try, because I’ve heard they’re even more demanding than courgettes. But a home-grown tomato is such an entirely different thing to a shop-bought tomato. Crikey, it’s annoying when Jamie Oliver makes his tomato salads: “Just toss them all together” he says, referring to a beautiful bowlful of organic purple and green and yellow and orange tomatoes. Somehow it just doesn’t look the same when you’re using a net of Tesco’s salad tomatoes.

carol smith tomatoes

Mum had brought an amazing medley though: a Russian mobster of a tomato, wonderfully named ‘Black Krim’. Small, red ‘Gardener’s Delight’, tiny ‘Sun Gold’ and large, red plum tomatoes.

In my humble opinion, the only way to enjoy such a bounty of tomatoes is in the purest fashion. “Put balsamic on them” said Tom, hopping around the plate of tomatoes with a bottle. But I put my foot down, and tossed them in the smallest drizzle of olive oil, and then sprinkled over a generous pinch of Slovely‘, a Slovenian fleur de sel. Salt with tomatoes is a beautiful thing – it somehow intensifies the natural tomato flavours, and helps them glow with pride.

As summer ebbs into Autumn, we’re reaching the end of tomato season – and then it’ll be back to tinned tomatoes until next summer. So I am going to try and eat as much tomato salad in the meantime to stock up. As I mentioned, you won’t find the right tomatoes for this recipe in supermarkets, so keep your eyes peeled at market stands and upmarket greengrocers. If you know anywhere in (preferably East) London where I can buy exciting tomatoes, please do let me know, as mum’s bag of tomatoes is already seriously depleted….

Tomatoes in Bag


  1. says

    Courgettes (or what we call zucchini here in the US) are often problematic for me, too. Either they do wonderfully well–and produce more squash than four people could ever eat (or want to)–or they keel over after hardly starting to flower. Compost and water certainly help, but at least here in the States, we have a terrible thing called a squash vine borer, which bores into the base of the vine (after hatching in the soil) and then cleans out its insides. From one day to the next, a wonderfully healthy vine will wither and become unrecoverable. Every year, I cross my fingers that it won’t happen until I’ve gotten my fill of squash!

    • says

      Lived in a house overlooking Vicky Park for many years and grew all manner in a walled garden. The idea I could see goats, deer and sheep out of my windows whilst living in the East End still amazes people. You also have some great local foodie markets too, which weirdly seem in shorter supply out of London, here in Hampshire. One day …

    • says

      Near the west corner where the Night Ride meets Gore Road there used to be an enclosure for a number of farm animals like sheep, goats, rabbits, etc. But the deer were wild and just roamed about. Not a lot of them and they spook quite easy so mainly you only saw them in the very early morning. However I am really showing my age. This was 20 odd years ago! They’ve probably all been eaten by now.

  2. says

    Rachel, I hate to gloat but people can’t give zucchinis away in summer here, they grow like weeds. In your defence, I am sure they are much harder to grow in a container. Don’t they need bees to pollinate them? If you haven’t got any bees, I think you need to rub a feather into the boy and then girl flowers. Good luck with your next adventure. BTW Your mum’s tomatoes look absolutely fab

    • says

      Oh Glenda, that’s not gloating – it just sounds wonderful!
      In all honesty, my mum has the same problem. Hers often become marrows, because she can’t eat the courgettes quickly enough. One summer, she actually gave my sister a courgette sandwich, she was so overwhelmed by all the courgettes and couldn’t think what to do to get rid of them!
      Girl + boy flower + feather sounds like an enjoyable biology lesson. Will definitely give it a go. And perhaps a bigger container. Though I fear it might be the un-greeness of my fingers more than anything else! X

  3. says

    I manage tomatoes with ease on my roof terrace. But courgettes don’t seem to like me! I think perhaps I need a biology lesson!!! And yes, this is my second year of trying…window boxes don’t seem to work, so next year I am going to re-plant my planters and try in one of those.

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