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 top ten Diggers Club Tomato Taste Test results were all heirlooms:
We had three Italian Chef/food experts who rated Italian red heirloom Periforme the best, in preference to highly coloured heirlooms.
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!
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?
A good tomato is one the fruits early and continues to yield over a long period. Our trials at Diggers prove heirloom tomatoes fruit earlier, have a higher yield and their flavour is preferred to commercial hybrids.
Here are a few of our favourite heirlooms:
Tigerella: The best yielding tomato we have ever grown! It produces around 20 kilos of fruit per plant. The flavour is excellent, it fruits early and the ‘tiger stripes’ are very eye catching. One packet of seed could produce around 500kg of fruit!
Green Zebra: A tomato with a built in colour marker that produces yellows stripes indicating ripeness. This modern heirloom has been bred by Tom Wagner and created huge interest when we first introduced it in 1991. It’s an early tomato, and the green colour confuses the pests. One of the most beautiful, and now a classic, heirlooms.
Jaune Flamme: This jewel-coloured heirloom from France produces trusses of orange fruit very early in the season. For tomato guru, Amy Goldman, ‘Flamme can do no wrong. Unsurpassed for flavour and appearance.’
Black Cherry: Dark, sweet and juicy fruit makes them look just like cherries. The round and exceptionally sweet fruit is of the highest standard. It shows good disease resistance and is a strong a vigorous plant.
Amish Paste: Heirloom tomato expert David Cavagnaro rates Amish Paste 100 out of 100; the perfect score. Originating in the gardens of Amish communities, this has a rich sweet flavour for salads but is meaty enough for sauces.
Low wages, outrageous workloads: Tomato picker Lupe Gonzalo talks to The Perennial Plate.
You might think of tomatoes merely as supermarket staples, but in Florida, where the majority the nation’s crop is grown, thousands of pickers toil for less than a living wage. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a grassroots farmworkers’ rights organization, is trying to change that by asking supermarket chains and fast-food outlets to sign Fair Food Agreements that would improve conditions for the industry’s workers. Daniel Klein, of The Perennial Plate, spent the day with Lupe Gonzalo, a tomato picker and CIW organizer. Watch her story, then imagine picking 200 full-sized buckets of tomatoes in 105-degree heat.
You’ll never look at a supermarket tomato the same way again.
The markets were quiet today – just how I like them. I was able to pay straight away (without queuing) and no bumping into dogs, prams and market trolleys. The ingredients for this salad are made from purchases from the same stall where the owners play music to their vegetables. I’m hoping this salsa makes me sing all afternoon.
1 cucumber, small
handful of tomatoes
3 capsicums, one of each colour
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
several leaves of fresh basil
a few strands of chives
Peel the skin off the cucumber and dice. Dice the tomatoes and capsicum (red, orange and yellow). Add them to a serving bowl.
Add the lime juice and extra virgin olive oil with the chopped herbs as a dressing. Mix together and serve.
You’re probably wondering why there is even a recipe here for tomato salad. A few extra simple steps make all the difference from a soggy mess into something tasty.
We have used heirloom black Russian tomatoes in this dish. Any type of tomato will do, but make sure it is ripe and flavoursome. Consider varying the fresh herbs to whatever you have in the garden. Finely chopped shallots would also be suitable.
The dressing is a little on the generous size, so leave it in a glass jar in the fridge if you end up with too much dressing to tomato ratio (like I did).
parsley, finely chopped
basil, f inely chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp red or white wine vinegar
Slice the tomatoes and place them in a colander over a bowl to collect the excess juices. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Leave to drain for 15-30 minutes. Stir occasionally, but there is no need to press them.
Arrange tomato slices on your serving dish. Top with the parsley and basil leaves.
Mix the olive oil and vinegar together in a cup and then sprinkle the dressing over the salad.
Leave to stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Cooked for the Greek entry of the World Cup and Plate challenge. Youvetsi is a lamb and tomato baked dish with rice-shaped pasta.
1/4 cup Olive oil
500g lamb meat, chunks
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tin of diced tomatoes with juice
1 stick of cinnamon
30g of butter
200g risoni or orzo
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the lamb in batches until golden on all sides, then transfer the meat to a plate.
Saute the onions until golden and softened. Add the garlic and cook for another half a minute, then return the meat to the pan.
Add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and add the cinnamon and the butter. Cook for 5 minutes.
Trasfer the mixture to a casserole dish and add 4 cups of hot water.
Cover and bake for an hour or until the lamb is tender.
Rinse the pasta in a fine sieve, drain and add to the casserole dish. Mix through, cover and return it to the oven for another 15 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked and has absorbed most of the sauce.
You may need to adjust the pasta cooking time and add more water if needed.
Serve hot. You may like to sprinkle grated parmesan, pecorino, feta or haloumi over the top.
VARIATION: I’m planning on trying this one with rice, but you’d need to add it about 45 minutes in so that it cooks through. If you use rice it’ll will be gluten-free. Leave off the cheese on the top to make it dairy-free.
Over a month later, finally our first capsicum turned red!
I planted in some bulbs for spring flowers. I’m hoping to see Tulip Silentia, Tulip Ile De France, mixed ranunculus and white rain lilies add some sparkle to our back patio. The bulbs were pushed into the home-grown compost that was littered with broken egg and peanut shells. I just hope we don’t end up with tomatoes instead!
We pulled up all of the tomato plants that were grown from seedlings from the local markets. Matt found them flavourless and unfortunately I have no idea what type they were, but we’ll stick to heirlooms from now on anyhow. The potato plants continue to grow upwards. They received a sugar cane mulch top up, as did all of the beds and pots. We harvested two lemons and several kumquats.
I added some seeds to a set of peat pots – herb robert, tomatillo, tomatoes (various) and broccoli.
If you missed ABC’s Australian Story last week about Dr Maarten Stapper and biological farming, you might want to watch ‘Back to Earth‘ online.
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.
tasty or cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
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
Saute the onion and garlic in some canola oil for several minutes.
Combine the tomato, stock, soy milk, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan.
Simmer for 30 minutes.
Take off the heat and add some basil leaves.
Puree in a blender or food processor.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with basil.
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.
We have harvested a few tomatoes already, although I’m going to confess these are just some bought ones. Tomatoes are called ‘pomodoro’ in Italian which means ‘golden apple’. This method of quick roasting leaves them retaining their shape. They were still watery and ideal as as a side served with the risotto. They were like a fresh fleshy tomato sauce.
Preheat the oven to 220°C.
Place tomatoes on a lightly greased baking tray.
Season with olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar.
Place in the oven for 20 minutes.
Alternative: If you have more time and would like to slow roast your tomatoes. Slice them in half. Change the oven temperature to 175°C, and leave them for 2-3 hours. Keep them moist with the olive oil. The liquid will have reduced and they will be crisper.