Va­ri­ety act


From Black Rus­sians to the Wap­sip­ini­con Peach, we taste test the best her­itage toma­toes.


Toma­toes used to be just round and red. But not any­more. Nowa­days they come in a rain­bow ar­ray, a range of shapes and sizes, and many dif­fer­ent flavours. Colours range through black, green, yel­low, or­ange and yes, even red! Shape and size can be tiny, from the one-gram, cur­rant-sized Wild Sweetie to the one-kilo­gram Brandy­wine. Flavours — well, that’s very much a per­sonal choice. Although we think of the tomato as a veg­etable, botan­i­cally it’s a fruit, as are beans, cap­sicums, corn, cu­cum­bers, egg­plants, peas and pump­kins. toma­toes orig­i­nated in South Amer­ica; from around 17 species, an in­cred­i­ble 75,000 cul­ti­vars have been se­lected over the past two cen­turies for vary­ing qual­i­ties. Among the 25,000 plant va­ri­eties at the great Seed Savers Ex­change in Iowa, there are 5500 heir­loom toma­toes, most of which have long since dis­ap­peared from com­mer­cial seed lists. We need to thank the Ital­ians for un­der­stand­ing the po­ten­tial of toma­toes, and per­suad­ing Euro­peans to try eat­ing them. The first recorded Ital­ian cul­ti­var was the Cos­to­luto Gen­ovese, a large heav­ily-ribbed red skinned tomato, in­dis­pens­able for pastes, puree and juices, and thus one of the foun­da­tions of an en­tire cui­sine. In 1780, Thomas Jef­fer­son was grow­ing this tomato in his gar­den at Mon­ti­cello, vir­ginia. Amazingly descen­dants of this paste tomato could be sam­pled at a tast­ing or­gan­ised by Dig­gers Seeds at the re­cent Mel­bourne Flower and Gar­den Show. Dig­gers had 22 kinds of tomato to taste, di­vided into four groups — cher­ries, salad, slicers and paste. The cher­ries in­cluded the ever-popular Tommy Toe; an ex­otic-look­ing Black Cherry; Lemon Drop, sweet with a de­li­cious zing; and Wild Sweetie, a tiny ex­quis­ite fruit. Slicers in­cluded Black Rus­sian, which is more com­mon in our stores than it was a few years ago. How­ever, it was the salad toma­toes that re­ally cap­ti­vated the tasters. Four stood out: the or­ange Jaune Flamme with a del­i­cate flavour; Green Ze­bra and Red And Black — the names speak for them­selves — and the tongue-twist­ing Wap­sip­ini­con Peach, a pale pink that’s named af­ter a river in Iowa. weirdly, its sweet taste could be de­scribed as a ‘peach of a tomato’! Most of th­ese va­ri­eties are avail­able as seeds or seedlings.

How dif­fer­ent our eat­ing habits are to­day. In 19th-cen­tury Australia, the Bri­tish culi­nary in­her­i­tance gave us a poor veg­etable diet. It’s best summed up by a Bri­tish gar­den­ing writer of the era, wil­liam Robin­son, who de­clared: “we are meat eaters be­cause our fa­thers had lit­tle to eat… men killed and cooked, there was lit­tle else worth eat­ing… The veg­etable king­dom is usu­ally rep­re­sented by a mass of ill-smelling cab­bage and sod­den pota­toes.” We still have the cab­bage and pota­toes but, thanks to a mul­ti­cul­tural pop­u­la­tion that in­tro­duced their favourite cap­sicums, egg­plants, asian greens and herbs, our diet is vastly dif­fer­ent.and our tomato hori­zons are ex­pand­ing as well, for va­ri­eties that have been grown for hun­dreds of years in Europe and Amer­ica are only now reach­ing our shores. What’s new in heir­loom seeds for us is ac­tu­ally old.

Green Ze­bra Wild Sweetie Lemon Drop Black Cherry Blush Grosse Lisse Black Rus­sian Wap­sip­ini­con Peach Blush Black Cherry

Tommy Toe

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