Product of the week: British tomatoes

Categories: Product of the week

A tour of the cornucopia of fruits to be found at The Tomato Stall

Image: John Holdship

“Tomato growing has really developed over the years—much more than many people may realise,” says Daniella from The Tomato Stall as she contemplates the 200-plus varieties that the farm produces on the Isle of Wight. “We now have a real range of flavours available. What we are trying to do is really get the knowledge out there.” For those used to the slightly watery, tough-skinned fruit of indeterminate taste, the display on The Tomato Stall at Borough is nothing short of astonishing.

“There is such a wide range of tastes, textures and flavours,” says Daniella. “We have a variety called chocolate marmonde. This is a gorgeous purple-brown, big beef tomato. It has quite dark shoulders and then fades into a red towards the bottom. It has a rich, earthy, full flavour, to go with its dramatic looks. Another tomato we grow is the classic golden vine, which is a bright sunshine yellow. This tomato is slightly less acidic than its red counterpart and with that, it has a lovely mellow sweetness. It is a nice twist on the classic red tomato when added to salad, or you can slice it up and put it in a tart. It just gives something different.”

While variety is definitely the name of the game for this British grower, this does not come at the expense of quality. The cherry tomato is a firm favourite among tomato-lovers, and these can of course be found on the stall—but things are done a little differently. “We have an excellent cherry tomato, a piccolo cherry vine,” Daniella says. “This is actually one of the hardest cherry vine tomatoes to grow, but we persisted because it is by far the tastiest. It has a wonderfully sweet flavour, so for me there is very little that needs doing to it. It is great as a snack on its own—you could take a punnet on a picnic and eat them alongside your sandwiches or pork pies.”

Sweet and tangy
If you want a classic red tomato, Daniella suggests the red mini plum, which are bursting with that rich tomato flavour we want when we pick up a tomato, but rarely actually get. “They have a good balance of acidity and sweetness, with a lovely crunch to them. They are also robust enough to stand up to different flavours and cooking techniques, making them extremely versatile.” However, if you are up for a showstopper on the dinner table there is something for you as well: the green tiger tomato. With its distinctive tiger stripes, the flesh is bright green with a sweet and tangy taste. While you can eat them raw, they are ideal for roasting.

The orange cherry vine, meanwhile, has a distinctive fruity flavour all of its own and is the most glorious vibrant colour. Then there is the kumato: originally developed in Spain, it thrives on the Isle of Wight and is one of the stall’s most requested tomatoes. “When the skin is dark green the taste is mild and the flesh firm, great for slicing. As it ripens to a chocolate brown, it takes on a sweet and slightly spicy aroma, perfect for salads. Allowed to develop to a dark red tinge the fruit becomes juicier and acquires a very sweet flavour.” Like three tomatoes in one.

If you feel inspired by the cornucopia on offer, there are several suggestions to get you started on your exploration of the surprisingly varied British tomato: try Felicity Cloake’s Sicilian almond and tomato pesto, Kathy Slack’s tomato and basil tarts, Tom Hunt’s pappa pomodoro, or Paula McIntyre’s tomato and Woodside Red salad, which uses three different types of tomato. “There are so many wonderful recipes using tomatoes,” Daniella says with a smile. “With sweet, acidic, fruity and, on occasion, varieties with a touch of bitterness to choose from, exploring the different types of tomato can take your favourite dishes to another level.”