From Black Russians to the Wapsipinicon Peach, we taste test the best heritage tomatoes.
BEYOND THE ROUND RED SUPERMARKET STAPLE THERE’S AN EXPANDING WORLD OF 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