It all began last summer with me asking Ryan Wellock from Caterite if he could get hold of the best British tomatoes for me for a new dish I was working on. He replied, “have you tried the local ones from Longtown?” I thought he was seriously winding me up. It turns out that he wasn’t, and two hours later they arrived and what’s more, they were brilliant.
I’m not sure how they do it to be quite honest. I’ve driven through Longtown and the Mediterranean it isn’t! But the tomatoes produced there are by far the best ones we have ever used. My guess would be that it’s for the exact same reason they are so good when you’re on holiday in the Mediterranean; quite simply the time from picking to delivery is much shorter, meaning they only pick them when they’re ripe and ready to use, and not a week or more before like the majority of the tomatoes available in the UK.
For a period, my parents lived in the Scottish Borders and when I went to visit them, I drove right past Cochrane’s nurseries just outside Longtown and never called in, not once. Now, however, it’s a place I would definitely make a journey to, solely to buy the tomatoes and strawberries they grow. When you look into it though it’s not that surprising that the produce, they grow at Cochrane’s is so good when you discover that the nursery is over a hundred years old. The fresh flowers and garden nursery plants are equally impressive as well; so even when the tomatoes and strawberries have finished it’s well worth the trip.
To be honest though I was a bit disappointed in myself for not finding them earlier. I spend hours and hours scouring Cumbria looking for the best produce and have always complained and moaned about the lack of genuinely good vegetables produced in the county.
There are some great small suppliers and vegetable box schemes for the domestic market in the county but producing consistent quality crops for a commercial kitchen is understandably difficult, especially for smaller growers. However, through Caterite under the management of Lorcan Byrne I’ve started to see a huge improvement in the availability and quality of vegetables that we are able to buy commercially.
The knowledge of the fresh produce team at Caterite about the ingredients the source is second to none and makes you feel like you are still dealing with a passionate small supplier, who is also able to cope with the demands of a commercial kitchens. I know the rest of the north of the UK is catching on too, with their vans often spotted travelling well outside Cumbria’s county lines!
The dish we developed last summer has returned this year with a few minor tweaks and has quickly become a firm favourite with our guests. I am 100% certain that this wouldn’t have been the case if it the tomatoes hadn’t have been as good as they are.
For the recipe I am making a firm favourite of mine “pan con tomate” or tomato bread for us Cumbrians. It’s such a simple thing to make but it HAS to be made with perfect tomatoes which is why it’s so popular in Spain. I have tried many times to make it at home, but it was never the same until know. The ciabatta I use is always from either Lovingly Artisan or More? Bakery.
You can buy the tomatoes when in season from Cochrane’s Nursery Shop and in many of the small independent vegetable shops and delis around Cumbria. You can even buy them in the new shop right next door to the Stamp House; the Lake District Farm Shop, opened by Colin Sneath from A Days Walk.
I promise you that unless you’ve grown it yourself, you’ll not eat a better tomato in Cumbria!
Pan con tomate
4 ciabatta rolls
1 bulb of garlic
8 ripe tomatoes
To start with get a course box grater, hold the tomato buy the part where the stalk would be and grate them, as you grate the skin should begin to peel back and you can discard it.
Place the tomato pulp in a bowl and season with a little lemon juice and sea salt. Pass the pulp through a sieve and place over a clean bowl to drain. The juice is delicious and can be drunk.
Cut the ciabatta in half and drizzle with olive oil and bake in an oven at 180°C until golden.
Cut the garlic bulb in half and rub over the ciabatta as soon as it leaves the oven.
Top with the drained tomato pulp and finish with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.
Sit in the sun with a chilled glass of wine and imagine being on holiday!