How to grow tasty tomatoes

Guest post by The Diggers Club

tomato tasting

About the Taste Test

The Diggers Club conducted a tomato taste test to see whether heirloom tomatoes could beat the supermarket hybrids. The taste test was held in February 2013 at the Adelaide Botanic Garden, with South Australian garden experts, and cooks and gardeners invited.

Supermarket hybrids are usually dwarf bushy varieties which are easier to machine harvest and are bred for long-distance shipping. Being dwarf varieties they are invariably low in flavour with short harvest periods. The tasty long-harvest period heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate, with lateral branches that continue to grow and therefore need support.

The seeds from these heirloom tomatoes bred in back yards over hundreds of years hold a continuous unbroken link to our history.

The Results

The top ten Diggers Club Tomato Taste Test results were all heirlooms:

Rank Variety Colour Size
=1 Hungarian Heart Pink Oxheart
=1 Jaune Flamme Orange Apricot
2 Tommy Toe Red Apricot
3 Black Cherry Purple-Black Cherry
4 Wild Sweetie Red Pea
5 Wapsipinicon Peach Opaque Apricot
6 Lemon Drop Lemon Grape
7 Ananas Noir Yellow/Black Beefsteak
8 Black Russian Black Apricot
9 Periforme / Granny’s Throwing Red Large pear
10 Purple Smudge Orange Beefsteak

We had three Italian Chef/food experts who rated Italian red heirloom Periforme the best, in preference to highly coloured heirlooms.

tomatoes in basket

Growing tomatoes

Tomatoes are easy to grow with 6 hours of sunshine per day in friable, well drained soil.

  • Sow seed into Jiffy or Peat Pots 6 weeks before transplanting to minimise transplant root disturbance. All but dwarf varieties need support.
  • Being frost sensitive they need minimum 15 degrees C soil temperature for up to 21 growing weeks. Plant out at 1 metre spacing.
  • Heirlooms will fruit from January for 3-4 months in cool climates and all year around in hot climates, hence the ubiquitous supermarket ‘winter’ tomato!

Summary

The first eighteen varieties preferred were all heirlooms from Hungry, France, Italy, Russia and America, and seven of the bottom eight were red commercial varieties from the South Australian market. Since the 1993 taste test which was won by Tommy Toe, fourteen varieties were regarded as better than the garden standard Grosse Lisse.

Would you pay four hundred times the price of heirlooms to an overseas corporation when you can save your seeds and replant for nothing?

Guest post by The Diggers Club

Tomato twinkies

tomato-twinkies

I predict that heirloom tomatoes will become a food trend some day soon, similar to how sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar were a few years ago. A couple sells heirloom tomatoes at the local markets and that’s where we were introduced to all the different flavours and colours. They can range from peachy yellow ones to ugly black flecked sweet ones.

Tomato twinkies are a family favourite and something I fondly remember eating with my dad after school. I haven’t a clue if anyone else calls them that. It’s important to use real butter and home-grown tomatoes. A few years ago, I changed the version slightly to Jatz biscuits with mozzarella cheese, cherry tomatoes and torn basil. Either way they’re still the best snack.

Sao biscuits
butter
tasty or cheddar cheese
tomato
salt and pepper

  1. Butter sao biscuits
  2. Top with sliced cheese and a slice of tomato.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.

Garden tomato and basil soup

Our tomatoes are starting to pick up the pace in our garden. We need to pick them early to stop the caterpillars having a feast before we do. Soup is a great way to hide any less then perfect tomatoes. I used some that had split from the fluctuating rain and my half-hearted attempts at remembering to watering. I recommend using a tomato peeler – it makes the job ultra easy with it’s special serrated jaws. Add some milk to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. Make a big batch if you like, and then freeze the leftovers. You could use this recipe as a basis for passata for pasta sauce or a stew base.

Garden Tomato and Basil Soup

1 onion, chopped
1 garlic, minced
1 cup tomatoes, cored, peeled and chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tbsp soy milk or milk
1 tbsp sugar
½ lemon, juiced
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped

  1. Saute the onion and garlic in some canola oil for several minutes.
  2. Combine the tomato, stock, soy milk, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan.
  3. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Take off the heat and add some basil leaves.
  5. Puree in a blender or food processor.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with basil.
  7. Serve with toasted cheese sandwiches or a crusty bread roll for a easy dinner or quick lunch.

Variation: Use a tin of tomatoes or a cup of tomato juice (e.g. V8) instead of real tomatoes.

Serves 2.

Where to buying seeds online in Australia

If you are new to buying seeds there are thousands of different varieties to choose from. You may like to consider:

Heirloom seeds have stood the test of time. Each time they are chosen from the best plants, so you progressively get seeds which suit the climate, give good yields and taste great. Modern hybrids are selected for looking good on a grocery store shelf and transporting long distances. For example, hybrid tomatoes often have thick skins. Hybrid plants may crop all at once, while heirloom seeds tend to crop over a longer period which makes them more suitable for the home grower.

There are a number of good places to buy heirloom and/or organic seeds in Australia:

List of heirloom and/or organic seeds in Australia

I was surprised to stumble across some heirloom seeds on eBay. You can also buy some seeds on Etsy, but the sellers are mostly American. I’ve not bought seeds from overseas as I imagine that Australian Customs would quickly quarantine them.

Seed Savers is another option.