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.

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.

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….

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