The old types of tomatoes are really fascinating; with a myriad of colours, shapes and delicious flavours it is no wonder that we of this age, who have been brought up to think that a tomato is round and red, are amazed to discover that the modern tomato is a fruit that our forebears would hardly recognise today!
The names alone are intriguing- Bloody Butcher, Vintage Wine, Green Zebra-who wouldn’t want to sample these?
Those of you who prefer a less acidic tomato will be delighted with San Marzano from Italy. It is a staking type, producing lots of medium sized pear shaped orange/red fruit.
I discovered in an overseas catalogue a few years ago, an old tomato from the highlands of America that is a real treasure. It is a bush tomato, and produces good-sized tasty red fruits. It is very decorative, with ferny, greyish leaves, which I feel go a long way towards it being very blight resistant. It is very suitable for container growing. This is a fine example of the old fitting in with today’s way of life; with gardens getting smaller, and more apartment dwellers, this tomato is both attractive and productive for all. It is appropriately called Silvery Fir Tree!
Bush tomatoes are easier to grow than staking ones- the important thing to remember is to underlay them with hay or straw to prevent fruit and leaves touching the soil, which is how they get blight. They are also great in tubs- under plant with basil, parsley and marigolds and you have a very useful and attractive addition to your veranda or deck. Also easy to take to the beach for the summer holidays!
My favourite cherry staking tomato is called Red Fig. It is the most prolific tomato I know of, fruiting for around 9 months in frost-free areas. The fruit is pear shaped, sweet and wonderful for putting whole into salads and lunchboxes. It has a cousin called Yellow Pear, which also has good flavour, and combining these two in salads will bring many compliments for the chef.
Medium sized heirloom salad tomatoes include three stripey tomatoes-Green Zebra, green/yellow with dark green stripes, Black Zebra, wine coloured with red stripes, Tigerella, yellow with red stripes- all very tasty, a great sight on your salad when together and great in sandwiches. Tommy Toe is red and round-always found near the top in taste tests, and very popular. Larger heirlooms include Black Krim from Russia- the tangiest tomato flavour; Charlie Scotts’ Wartime Italian-this delicious tomato, with its profusion of elongated pinky-red fruit, was introduced to New Zealanders by Charlie bringing the seed home in his socks from Italy after WW 2. and good old Grosse Lisse, which was my Dad’s favourite,
This season you may like to experiment with some of these old treasures-they are self-pollinating, so you can safely save seed from all of these regardless of varieties.
To save seed: Always choose good tomatoes from the third truss on, as these are fully mature. Leave on the plant until very ripe, wash in a sieve until you have mostly seed left, put the seed onto a handitowel or similar. Dry in the airing cupboard, then store in a brown envelope, labelled and dated, in a cool, dry place. When planting time arrives, lay the handitowel in the tray, lightly cover with potting mix and the seedlings should pop up! P.S. An old secret for growing tomatoes is to put a teaspoon of milk powder under each plant!
Copywrite: Ginny Clayton