Yes, it is a big call but I hereby throw down the gauntlet and challenge everyone to match your favourite home-grown veg against this stunner.
Its aroma and taste is delicious. Its incredibly versatile and now a staple of many countries around the world. I’ve always found the plants easy to grow and producing masses of vegies. Better still, eating them has some great health benefits.
However, there is one winning factor for me that makes them stand above the rest of my vegie patch (also literally) and it is this; I can think of no other vegetable which, when home-grown, demonstrates such a *huge* difference in taste from the supermarket variety.
If you’ve never had a tomato straight from the vine, still warm from the sun’s rays, full of fragrance and flavour … well, you’ve never lived. Its also reminiscent of Easter as a child – you catch a glimpse of colour, hidden deep in the foliage and feel that rush of excitement!
Now before people complain at the accuracy of my title, I had better point out that botanically speaking tomatoes are really berries. They have the seeds and pulp grown from a single ovary that drops them into the true fruit category. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t eat them on Weet-Bix in the morning so I’m going with the gastronomic majority and bumping it to the vegetable category. Nutritionally, its far more closely related to the vegies and it complicates what I currently refer to as my “vegie” patch if I have to be strictly accurate.
While the Italian’s are possibly the most appreciative of the tomato today, honouring their tomato-centric pizza by naming it after their Queen Margherita of Savoy, its origins are actually in Peru and it was popularised in New Mexico around 400 AD. The Spanish acquired the tomato from the Aztecs and it debuted in Europe in the 16th Century at the same time as maize, eggplant (aubergine) and its close relation, the humble spud.
I have a wonderful book by Carol Klein – an unpretentious British gardener whom I quite like – called “Grow Your Own Veg” and I reread her pages on tomatoes today. The only problem is that it is very UK-climate oriented – some of the advice just doesn’t apply in Aus where its significantly hotter and drier. Here’s what I’ve found for my patch:
- full sun and heat, so wait a bit to let the soil warm up before mulching in Spring
- being in raised garden beds – helps with the soil temp, quality and drainage.
- rain water. Its amazing what a difference this makes over the treated water we get out of our taps.
- regular watering otherwise fruit splits and you can get blossom end rot.
- lots of organic matter in the soil (aids water retention)
- good support. I’ve gone with a stake each and then tying a trailer net between them, raising it a little as they grow. Then all the branches rest on the netting and the fruit doesn’t break the stems.
- food, esp. liquid fertiliser.
Tomatoes don’t like
- too much sunlight directly on their fruits, as they can burn in the Australian sun and it ruins the flavour. The best fruit is shaded a little by the leaves.
- wet leaves, which just harbours mildew and diseases.
- my cat climbing between them and digging up the soil for a toilet. I’m not really a big fan of that either.
As you can see from the photo, mine haven’t minded too much being crammed in. In fact, most of the fruit I’ve harvested so far has come from the shaded parts in the middle of the bed. I don’t tend to use many chemicals in the garden and no inorganic pesticides, so the natural environmental balance has kept my tomatoes largely pest and disease free.
I do not like tomato dust at all. The only thing it has succeeded at in my garden is stopping the growth of my tomatoes while they cope with being coated in it. Same goes for rose dust.
The best thing of course is cooking them! We have a fabulous Donna Hay cookbook called “No time to cook” that has a great recipe for “Oven-Roasted Tomato and Mint Soup”. This is a fresh, delicious recipe with takes minimal effort and tastes of summer.
Oven Roasted Tomato and Mint Soup (Donna Hay, “No Time To Cook”)
2.5kgs (4 1/2 lbs) tomatoes
1/3 cup oregano leaves
sea salt & cracked black pepper
olive oil for drizzling
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup chopped mint
1. Halve tomatoes. Sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and roast in a moderate oven (180°C/350°F) for 30 mins or until soft and slightly browned.
2. Blend tomatoes, place in a saucepan and simmer with the stock, vinegar and sugar for 4mins.
3. Stir the mint through and serve or freeze for up to 3 months.
There are a myriad of other great uses for your fresh tomatoes, from home-made sundried tomatoes stored in olive oil and tomato sauce to lasagne and baking with fish, onions and herbs. There are some good ones here: Taste.com.au Tomato Recipes
If you grow nothing else in your garden at all, grow a tomato. They give so much back to the gardener and are my favourite vegetable.
Now, who’s with me?