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That time of year

Every second person I speak to has too much of something. After I finished the fantastic backyard plum crop, my Mumini brought me a share of white-fleshed nectarines that one of her coworkers had dropped off — my share amounted to about 3kg. I gained about the same of fresh homegrown apples in the same manner, I’ve procured half a kilo of assorted cucumbers, and last night I scored a bag of fresh passionfruit and a huge tub of basil pesto. Envy me.

A cri de couer from some friends saw me valiantly rescuing them from their tomatoey burden: I could only manage 4kg, but they had found other channels too, so it was okay. This time of year is the best. (Well, now I think about it…soon the figs and quinces will be ripe at Mumini and Dadini’s place, and that’s an even awesomer time of year. So maybe that time of year will be the best.) (Oh, and then when the frosts are here, that’s so pretty, and cold nights are wonderful. So that time of year is also the best.)

Tomatoes: I had many. This happened.

Big red pot full of savoury abundance!

It’s a family rule: when tomatoes drop below a certain price, you buy up big and make Hot Stuff. The rule is something like twenty cents per flagon. My Nanini made up the rule, pre-metrics. So now I just go with the spoonfully rule: “If tomatoes are really cheap, or someone gives you heaps of them, or if you just want some Hot Sutff, buy up big and make Hot Stuff. If they were given to you, skip the buying stage.” Catchy. Hot Stuff is a tangy, spicy-sweet tomato relish, It’s incredible with a sharp cheddar and crusty bread. Or Kraft Singles and Tip Top. Or a spoon. Whatever you’ve got.

The Ancient Family Recipe is called Hot Stuff because one year my Nanini misread the recipe and put way too much ground chilli in it, so her kids just called it That Hot Stuff evermore. True story.

It’s super easy, but I warn you: it makes your house smell of savoury deliciousness — onions, vinegar, spices, all boiling away. If that sounds too pungent for you, then you should drop the whole thing and go back to your pussy willow sandwiches with the crusts cut off. I’ll be over here, stirring regularly in savoury steam. Take 3kg tomatoes and 4 big brown onions, peeled and roughly chopped. Cover them liberally with salt and sit overnight. Next day, strain off all the juice that comes out, and boil the resulting red stuff with 1 cup of brown vinegar for half an hour. Add around 650g of brown sugar…


…or a bit extra for a slightly more satanic tang, plus a teaspoon or so of ground chillies. I used cayenne pepper and paprika, and I’m pretty generous with my portions. Keep it boiling for another half an hour, and it’ll go dark brown and sludgy.

By the way, right about now you should have a bunch of jars boiling in a huge saucepan of water. I think the rule of thumb to sterilise jars is to boil for at least ten minutes: I wasn’t doing anything else anyway, so I boiled them for forty minutes while I was doing the rest of the Hot Stuff. After that half hour is up, pour yourself another cup of brown vinegar, add a dessertspoonful of mustard powder, a couple of tablespoons of curry powder, and two tablespoons of cornflour (AKA cornstarch) and whisk it all together. Pour this into your Hot Sludge, stirring constantly, and watch it thicken and go darker still. Cook it for another few minutes, stirring stirring stirring. Then ladle the hot Hot Stuff into the hot, clean jars, and leave it to cool. Don’t ladle hot Hot Stuff into cold jars, for the love of garlic. They’ll crack and it’ll go everywhere.

Bottled abundance: bottled awesomeness.

I’ve got about two litres stockpiled now and I’m feeling pretty damn smug. In autumn last year, we bought loads of cucumbers and beets and pickled those, and discovered you can totally make tomato relish with unripe tomatoes as well. I am saving jars and waiting for more friends burdened with horticultural exuberance. bethini to the rescue!

I admit to gloating a little. I'm only human.

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