A year ago, last February, Alistair, the gardener-groundsman at Château Plombis, went bananas sowing tomato seeds.  At the time he was cursed by the rest of the family, as every available flat surface in the guardians’ cottage was covered with little pots full of bare earth.

He tended and fussed over each pot like it was his own offspring.  Like a watched kettle they took a long time to come to anything, and when they did the first tiny leaves caused much excitement.  When the weather grew warm enough Alistair would move every seedling in its pot outside for the day, bringing them all in again in the evening, or when the weather grew too cool, windy or rainy.

Some seedlings didn’t make it, some were given away or swapped for other vegetable seedlings, but a lot survived. Some of the tomato plants found a home in the château kitchen garden where guests were able to help themselves to home-grown tomatoes, and others were planted in various spots against the warm stone walls of the barns and around the guardians’ cottage.

Throughout the summer small yellow flowers appeared on each plant then turned into little green buttons which swelled and slowly ripened. In late July the fruits of labour came to fruition: small sweet cherry tomatoes for snacking on, big fleshy coeur de boeuf specimens, pendulous crimson plum tomatoes and the local Marmande variety prized for their rich sweetness.

For a simple summer lunch in the heat of Occitanie, there’s not much that beats a plate of sliced sun-warmed beautifully ripe tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, with a crusty baguette for soaking up the delicious juices.

Later on into autumn less perfect fruits cooked down into tomato sauces for pasta and homemade pizzas. The crop survived well into November, and very late stragglers produced either red tomato chutney or green tomato chutney before the weary plants were torn out and added to the compost.

It’s definitely time to get those seeds sown again, Alistair..

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