It is mid-summer in Tasmania, the heart shaped isle south of the Australian mainland. The sun is belting down, the tanks are all dry, two-minute showers are mandatory and bushfires are raging in the old temperate forests that scatter the island. While the harsh January weather isn’t always welcome, what it does to the tomatoes is.
Each year in early February the first of the summer tomatoes start to ripen. Slender and elegant San Marzanos to big beefy black Russians, all sweet, juicy and needing nothing more than a dusting of salt, pepper and glug of olive oil. We lather then on toast in the mornings, boil big pots of them for pasta sauce in the evenings, then bottle what remains for cold winter nights.
Tomato season is short, sharp and abundant.
In tropical belt Malaysia, in contrast, most things grow year-round, with the two monsoons- a raging one that drowns us from November to early January and a short one in May and June- throwing the only seasonal spanners in the works. A dire lack of sun and extra heap of humidity cause the brassicas to slow and anything remotely opposed to damp. This year the coriander came to a halt, the insects came out in force and some of the tomato plants, trying desperately to ripen with what few minutes of sunshine there are a day, drowned when the rains broke into their bed.
Now the monsoon has now packed up its bags for another year. The sun is harsh and hot. The plants are bursting with life. There is rain on the horizon, but rarely does it translate to more than a little pitter patter. And while it is almost impossible to grow Black Russians organically in Cameron’s high humidity climate, this week the San Marzano are starting to ripen too.