I love this time of year and the proliferation of tomatoes. I don’t think you can ever have enough. Apart from eating them fresh, you can also make two of my favourite preserves: tomato sauce (I use my grandfather’s recipe which my Mum used for decades and passed down to me and my siblings, and which I will bequeath to my children) and tomato relish (last year I added one finely chopped chilli to my recipe and the flavour went from delicious to sublime). If I have time, and enough tomatoes, I will make tomato paste and preserved tomatoes as well. And next year I’m considering dried tomatoes too. Once they are dried you can marinate them with garlic in olive oil, or alternatively you can grind them up and use as a delicious tomato powder. For those that don’t ripen you can try green tomato jam, jelly or honey; the possibilities are almost limitless.
Now you can see why I say you can never have too many home-grown tomatoes. When you add to this the huge number of different tomato cultivars, you could reliably spend most of your life just exploring, researching, growing and preserving tomatoes. This year I’ve grown some different tomatoes again, as well as some old favourites. Prolific and reliable ‘Tommy Toe’, ‘Tigerella’ and ‘Jaune Flamme' are always welcome in my garden. But I have added ‘Amish Paste’ to use for tomato paste, ‘Wapsipinicon Peach’ because it is a long and late bearer as well as having delicious yellow fruit that are idiosyncronously slightly hairy, also ‘Old Ivory Egg’ another yellow one but this time pale yellow and egg-shaped and the last is ‘Guernsey Island’, medium sized, round with green and red stripes. I love watching the new ones grow, seeing how they develop, how heavily they bear their fruit and finally what they taste like.
Once again Diggers at Heronswood in Dromana, Victoria, has a fabulous display of tomatoes, carefully nurtured by Robyn in the kitchen garden. Last week I was able to take pictures of some that were being harvested for use in the restaurant. 95% of the vegetables used in their kitchen are harvested from this garden, so now is a great time to have a meal there as you will get a chance to sample some of this delicious range of tomatoes. If you don't want to eat, just go and look at the range, colour and sizes of the tomatoes growing. Those pictured above are (clockwise from the top starting on the outside) ‘Rose du Berne’, ‘Tigerella’, ‘Yellow Pear’, ‘Purple Russian’, ‘Tommy Toe’, ‘Green Grape’, ‘Mini Amish’, ‘Juane Flamme’. And the inner circle ‘Wild Sweetie’, ‘Black and Red’, ‘Green Zebra’ and ‘Black Krim’. Apart from one of the ‘Black and Red’ which you can see is actually black and green, all of these are ripe and ready to eat. People often ask how you can tell if a ‘Green Zebra’ is ripe, you can see in this picture that between the green stripes the flesh is yellow. And if you were able to touch them you would feel some ‘give’ in the fruit.
It's always a problem with ripe tomatoes, to get them before the birds do. I find that the green and yellow fruit are less likely to be eaten but I also harvest my red ones as soon as they start to change colour. Although it is wonderful to harvest and eat tomatoes straight from the vine, sun-ripened and sun-warmed, there is actually very little flavour difference between these and those that you harvest earlier and ripen inside. The most important thing is to grow them yourself!
By: Penny Woodward
First published: February 2016