Spec­ta­tor Les­lie Geddes-brown’s top toma­toes

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Les­lie Geddes-brown

THE day re­ports ap­peared that sci­en­tists were try­ing to put the taste back into toma­toes, I was or­der­ing my veg­etable seeds for the spring. They don’t re­ally need to get out their test tubes—they could just look at the seed cat­a­logue for the French firm Graines Bau­maux. The size of Vogue, this thun­dered through the let­ter­box last month.

If you think I ex­ag­ger­ate, just con­sider the tomato sec­tion. Com­pared to Franchi Se­menti of Har­row, the Italian firm based in Eng­land, which only of­fers 37 tomato types, Bau­maux has 26 pages ded­i­cated solely to toma­toes. Each va­ri­ety is il­lus­trated and has help­ful re­marks, such as ‘par­faite’, ‘suc­cu­lente’ and ‘type cerise’. Th­ese are aug­mented by small car­toons of French chefs mak­ing ‘su­perb’ ges­tures.

Faced with so much choice, I’ve or­dered four va­ri­eties. Th­ese are Ebeno (black­ish in colour), Indigo Blue Beauty (a gen­er­ous per­son would call this blue, but it’s re­ally dark pur­ple), Tirouge (boldly striped yel­low on red) and Black Ze­bra Cock­tail. This has ‘ex­cel­lente saveur, riche et com­plexe’ and is a cross be­tween Green Ze­bra and Black Cherry.

Un­til you’ve leafed through the 700 tomato va­ri­eties, you’ll have no idea what the su­per­mar­kets could do. In­stead of bor­ing, round, red toma­toes the size of a golf­ball, you can choose from a huge range of colours and sizes.

There are at least three— Pineap­ple, Bru­tus and Gi­gan­tomo —that weigh 3lb each and Grinta is more than 5½in long. At the other end of the scale, Gala­pa­gos ‘avec un curieux par­fum épicé’ is shown to­gether with a Euro coin that’s big­ger than each fruit. Th­ese are bright yel­low.

It’s also worth look­ing out for Cuor di Bue (in Franchi’s cat­a­logue), which means Ox Heart —ex­actly as it is shaped—and Cos­to­luto Fiorentino. The com­pany un­for­tu­nately de­scribes the lat­ter as a ‘mis­shapen, heavy, ribbed beef tomato’. Bau­maux has a Cos­to­luto Gen­ovese. It’s just as ugly if you dis­ap­prove of heavy rib­bing, but I love its au­then­tic­ity. Zapotec Pleated, an ‘an­ci­enne var­iété mex­i­caine des in­di­ens Zapotec’, can also be found at Bau­maux.

Toma­toes here also come in pink, green, pale or bright yel­low, orange, ‘black’ and ‘blue’. If you’re tempted by this mul­ti­plic­ity of tomato types, Bau­maux will tell you some can be grown out­doors and oth­ers in pots on win­dowsills, so there are few of us who can’t grow them.

Then what? To start with, I ar­range mine on a wooden charger, sorted by colour. Just as dec­o­ra­tive as flow­ers.

David Ta­nis, head che f at the iconic Chez Panisse in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, of­fers Sliced Toma­toes with Sea Salt in his book A Plat­ter of Figs and Other Recipes. ‘This isn’t so much a recipe,’ he writes, ‘as a way to think about toma­toes… you want 4lbs ripe sum­mer toma­toes, dif­fer­ent colours if pos­si­ble. Choose heir­looms such as Green Ze­bra, Yel­low Taxi, Mort­gage Lifter, Chero­kee Pur­ple and Lemon Boy.’

You can get Chero­kee Pur­ple and Green Ze­bra from Simp­son’s Seeds. The firm was started by Colin Simp­son, a Sun­day Times in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter I knew. Bau­maux has Lemon Boy, Chero­kee Pur­ple and Green Ze­bra.

Th­ese you should slice, scat­ter with torn basil leaves, chives or pars­ley and, at the last minute, scat­ter sea salt on top. I would use Mal­don. There’s a photo of the sliced va­ri­eties in a plain white dish and they re­ally do look splen­did. Make sure, adds Mr Ta­nis, that you never re­frig­er­ate toma­toes. Store and serve at room tem­per­a­ture.

I haven’t even talked about their taste. Simp­son’s says To­mande F1 is ‘one of the best tast­ing large toma­toes’ and I’m with Franchi in root­ing for Cos­to­luto Fiorentino. But why not dis­cover the taste of real toma­toes your­self?

‘ Bau­maux’s gi­ant cat­a­logue has 26 pages ded­i­cated solely to toma­toes ’

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