I spent an hour this morning looking after my tomatoes. I’d been wondering why there were so many green tomatoes but they never seemed to ripen. There were a handful of reddening ones last night, and none this morning, which suggests to me I am tending an elaborate bird-feeder. I wouldn’t mind, but I really like tomatoes.
So I carefully pushed bamboo stakes into the ground – brought back from Skafi beach – and string between them, then selected the CDs from my collection least likely to be missed and hung them to dangle and sparkle in the wind. We shall see how much the birds like The Ibiza Sunset Sessions Disk Three and Learn to Speak Korean in 60 Minutes.
Then, in a stroke of inspiration, after scouring the shelves of the village shop yesterday for something that might serve as netting, in the absence of anything close to a garden centre on this island, I remembered my portable string hammock – unlikely to be used while the campers are inhabiting the trees of Eristos beach this month – and draped it over the whole lot. I am protecting my babies like a wolverine. Fingers crossed.
‘To gouneli irtheh?’ asked Pavlos. He’s convinced it’s the rabbit. ‘Ercheteh tin nichta!’ It comes in the night, he says, and I imagine the rabbit stealthily tip-toeing into the garden wearing a black mask and a swag bag. If he’s right and it’s the rabbit eating my tomatoes, I’ll have to come up with another plan. It’s undoubtedly the rabbit that’s been eating the sweet melon; you can see where the fruits have been very carefully nipped off. My solution? Kitchen scouring pads, opened out into silver netting. You can laugh now.
Why I couldn’t go shopping for all this in Rhodes, I don’t know. It’s just that the garden centres are all out of town and when we pass them in the car, we’re totally focused on getting to the beach and going ‘Ah….’ Although I have started a mini-garden at Hari’s place, with herbs bought from the laiki, the market: rosemary and two kinds of basil and hot red peppers and some thyme that isn’t doing so well. ‘Bring me three thenthrolivano,’ says Hari as he’s cooking. The basil was a great success when we made our own pesto.
‘I have the good news and I have the bad news,’ said Hari later, after his son had stopped by for a bite to eat. ‘The good news is my son likes the pesto. The bad news is there is no more pesto.’ He’d been eating it with a spoon straight from the pot.
Of course, when I got back to Tilos after ten days in Rhodes, the garden here was a small forest, completely overgrown, and I spent a morning cutting things back, mostly the vlita which had grown into a tree. Am not sure whether I should be stopping the rocket from flowering – the bees do like the flowers. They certainly like the sunflowers – my pride and joy, the sunflowers. It’s unfortunate that I stuck them out of the way in the corner, thinking maybe they would provide a wall to mask the compost heap. The seeds were from a small gardening co-operative in Provence and they seem to thrive here.
But what to do with the courgettes that grew into huge marrows? And what to do with the slightly past-their-best aubergines still in my fridge from two weeks ago?
Use my newly acquired skills in the kitchen, of course! Thanks to Hari…
Stuffed Vegetables (Gemista) and Aubergine Salad (Melitzanosalata)
After returning from Skafi beach in the late afternoon fairly ravenous, in spite of picking a few figs on the way, I decided to start using the kitchen. I turned on the oven to 180 and stuck the aubergines in there on a baking tray along with a few cloves of garlic.
Then I took one of the huge marrows and cut it in half lengthways, and scooped out all the soft flesh, leaving no more than a centimetre thick of outer shell. Mum used to make stuffed marrows when we were kids. The soft flesh I chopped roughly and mixed up with:
half a red onion
a good quality tin of tomatoes
a handful of mint and a handful of basil fresh from the garden
a cup or so of rice
a slosh of red wine
a slosh of olive oil
a little fresh hot red pepper
six or so roughly chopped black olives
When it was thoroughly mixed (and already tasty), it went into the marrows and they went into the oven. They cooked for about an hour and then I turned off the oven while I went for a walk and left them in there. I walked up to Harkadio Cave, which is lit up in the summer as is the castle. The Greek music concert advertised at the stage there had attracted plenty of cars but I realised I wasn’t really in the mood for paying ten euros to sit at a formal concert. I heard lovely music for free from my balcony the night before, and the week before at Kafeneion in Rhodes. So I came back and continued cooking.
By the time I got back, the stuffed marrows were just ready: leave to cool for a while and they'd be ready to eat. In the meantime, to make the aubergine salad or dip, melitzanosalata, I took out the aubergines, cut off the tops and peeled off the skin, putting just the flesh into a mixing bowl. Then I squeezed the roasted garlic out of its skin too and into the bowl; the roasting had given it a lovely smooth smokiness and taken away any harshness. I decided to keep it simple and not add feta cheese to this one to see how it came out, just:
a slosh of olive oil
half a very juicy fresh lemon
fresh ground black pepper
A couple of minutes with the hand blender and that was it, done, and tasting amazing. When you know how, it’s so easy… The ingredients couldn’t have been simpler – just what was in the fridge, the cupboard and the garden.