Regular readers of this blog will have come to realise by now that I regard the UK’s Brexit vote as an act of national self-harm.
That is also pretty much how I view the election of Donald Trump to the office of president by the voters in the United States of America.
Since his inauguration, climate change denier Trump has set about undoing much of the environmental protection that had been brought in under predecessor administrations.
He has, for example, started to dismantle the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by putting a climate change denier, Scott Pruitt, in charge, leading in turn to the marginalisation of scientific climate change experts and the loss of hundreds of jobs.
US government websites have had all mention of climate change removed from them, and “global warming” has even been removed from an official list of “Threats to US National Security”.
Just this week, Trump announced the overturning of a ban on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides in US national wildlife refuges.
But the most headline-grabbing of his actions to date has been his announcement that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, threatening to fatally undermine international cooperation over greenhouse gas emissions.
The Paris climate change accord set its participants a target of restricting future global warming to two degrees Celsius. Two years on, without US buy-in, that target is now looking overly optimistic.
Former NASA scientist Dr James Hansen, regarded as the father of climate change awareness, had previously predicted that a rise of two degrees in global temperatures would be a “prescription for long-term disaster”. Anything above that would lead to drought across Europe, the desertification of central Asia and the Indian subcontinent and the loss of cities, towns and land to rising seas. These disasters would lead in turn to food shortages and starvation.
Some experts now rate the chances as just 1 in 20 that mankind will be able to limit future global warming temperature rises to 2 degrees celsius.
What we must understand is that planet Earth will continue to function without humankind. Our reckless, destructive and selfish behaviour is not so much threatening the future of this beautiful planet as propelling us as a species towards our own extinction.
Trump is not, of course, responsible for global warming, but he is responsible for spurning and undermining key opportunities at this critical point in time. His capriciousness, self-obsession and failure to grasp the big picture make him a perfect emblem for our times, and of the reasons why we got into this mess in the first place.
The extraordinary, hot, dry British summer this year may well be a sign of what is to come under climate change. It has certainly brought challenges, as well as some rewards in the garden. One of the latter for me has been a bumper crop of outdoor tomatoes.
I was advised by a wise gardening friend that as soon as your tomatoes begin to ripen you should water them sparingly: give them too much water and it will dilute the flavour.
This is useful advice when your tomatoes are in a greenhouse or polytunnel, but when they are open to the elements unpredictable things can happen.
So it was that a couple of weeks’ back the long stretch of glorious sunshine was finally interrupted by a burst of heavy rain. The result? Many of my tomatoes suddenly took in much more moisture and burst their skins.
That was how the idea for this soup came about, as a way to use up those burst-skin tomatoes. They may no longer have looked quite so beautiful but they still tasted gorgeous.
The long cooking process in this recipe helps to coax out the natural sweetness and flavour of the tomatoes, resulting in a beautifully balanced soup, the basil oil adding a final complementary flourish.
slow roast tomato soup with basil oil
1 kg organic tomatoes, various shapes and sizes
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
4 thyme sprigs
4 rosemary sprigs
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 litre hot vegetable stock
for the basil oil
30 g fresh basil leaves
60 g extra virgin olive oil
1. Pre-heat the oven to 140°C (275°F, gas mark 1).
2. Halve the larger tomatoes and place them in a roasting dish. Smaller cherry-type tomatoes can go in whole. Add the garlic cloves and scatter over the sea salt, rosemary and thyme springs. Drizzle over the olive oil and place in the pre-heated oven for two hours. Check the tray once or twice during roasting, and give it a little shake to prevent the tomatoes sticking to the base.
3. While the tomatoes are roasting, make the basil oil. Have to hand a bowl full of ice-cold water. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the basil leaves and prod them into the water with a wooden spoon to immerse them. After 20 seconds, remove from the heat, strain through a sieve and plunge the leaves into the ice-cold water. This will arrest the cooking process. Strain again, then pat dry on kitchen paper. Place in a blender with the olive oil and process for 30 seconds or until fairly smooth. Set to one side.
4. Remove the tray of tomatoes from the oven. Pour in the hot stock and stir to combine. Place over a gentle heat for 5 minutes, continuing to stir, then remove from the heat and set to one side for 15 minutes to cool. Remove the woody stalks of thyme and rosemary, and fish out the garlic cloves. Squeeze the garlic, which will be soft and puree-like, back into the tray, discarding the skin.
5. Use a blender to process the soup until smooth. To serve, reheat gently over a low heat until on the edge of a simmer. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with a little basil oil.