Shopping Worton United Kingdom
There are tasty tomatoes, there are super-tasty tomatoes and there are tomatoes with almost no taste at all. With seed-sowing time upon us, it’s worth knowing which are the varieties at the top of the flavour scale. Last August, I visited Worton Organic Garden in Oxfordshire to try out lots of new and exotic varieties.
Every good vegetable chef will tell you it’s preferable to have a mix of tomatoes in any dish – raw or cooked. Each one has a different level of sweetness and acidity and, combined together, this gives a greater depth of flavour, as well as looking more interesting on the plate. Discerning types always look out for the more unusual varieties when choosing what to eat, steering well clear of the middle-sized, neatly round, bright red supermarket version. I remember the National Trust café at Knightshayes Court in Devon testing this on their salad counter. They added yellow 'Sungold’ to some plates, and red cherries to others. The more interesting yellows outsold the red plates three times by the end of the day.
I’ve always grown a few plants of at least three or four types of tomato, which I can then harvest into the same bowl. My first always-grow variety is good old 'Sungold’, hard to beat with its intense sweetness, pretty orange-yellow skin and huge productivity from the end of June until at least November (if grown under cover). Add to that the large cherry variety 'Gardener’s Delight’, which also has good flavour and a useful long but light cropping pattern so that you don’t get too many all at once, but can go on eating from your plants for at least three months if grown inside.
'Gardener’s Delight’ famously has the other advantage of the fruit ripening on the vine at much the same time, the first fruit nearest the plant, red and sweet only a couple of days before the one at the tip, so you can harvest the whole vine and roast it all together.
Also on my sowing list every year is the strange-looking but utterly delicious 'Black Krim’. It is outstanding eaten raw – with a sprinkle of salt – in a salad. In a good year, the lovely pleated fruits of 'Costoluto Fiorentino’ will compete in terms of texture and flavour, but in a wet, low-light summer, they’re not so good.
They don’t grow any of my stalwarts at Worton, but cultivate an entirely different crew. David Blake finds much of his seed in Australia, where he was brought up (although it’s easier for British gardeners to buy seed from the United States). He finds these varieties do fine here, although in our climate they might not be quite up to Australian production, where he would sometimes get three crops a year. David and his Dutch wife, Anneke, have lived in Holland and so throw their sourcing net much wider than most of us, which means there’s always so much to learn from a visit to their garden and farm shop, whatever the time of year.
There is an incredible range of tomatoes growing in the glasshouse and a couple of large polytunnels at Worton – more than 50 varieties, with more than 200kg (440lb) produced in a good week. We can’t all grow this many, however, so I tried to pin David down to selecting some favourites from the standard or larger-fruiting types.
TOP FIVE HERITAGE TOMATOES
This was David’s tried-and-tested number one. This is from the Czech Republic and is a determinate type (which means it gets to a certain size, stops growing and bushes out, rather than continuing to climb like a vine). The advantage of the determinates is that they need no training, with no need to pinch out lateral shoots. I love the pinching part, but it can be a bit of chore and puts some beginners off growing tomatoes. 'Stupice’ does not even need a cane to support it – it prefers a bed of straw on the floor.
I don’t usually grow determinate types as they tend to be very heavy croppers but for only a short time. That’s not true of 'Stupice’, which is very early to fruit (from mid June inside), prolific until September (one plant will produce about 10kg/22lb of fruit) and is the last to succumb to blight at Worton, so could also be grown outside.
The fruit is small to medium-sized (about 125g/4½oz), very thin-skinned, does not crack and has a sweet but gentle flavour. It’s always in the top three in taste trials in Australia and very widely grown there.
David usually does three sowings of 'Stupice’, one in January in a warm greenhouse (these fruit by the middle of June, weather permitting), the next batch in early March, with a final lot in mid April to keep him in tomatoes until the first frost.
This was David’s next choice, a very tall indeterminate type (i.e. vine-growing, which needs support and training) which will grow to 7ft plus if you let it, with very little leaf compared to stem. This makes it look oddly gappy as it grows, but it’s a huge producer (again 10kg/22lb of fruit per plant), even with quite bad light levels. The fruit is medium to large (150g-200g/ 5oz-70z), with excellent flavour, lovely texture and a great shape. It starts to crop early and continues to the first frost.
'Aunt Ruby’s German Green’
This is a huge variety which I want to grow for its name alone. This is easy – disease-free and bountiful, with large fruit (up to 650g/23oz) which are extremely juicy. They’re thin-skinned which makes them all the more delicious, but means they crack a bit when nights get colder. This has a distinctly melony, sweet flavour, delicious with Parma ham. It is a late-cropper which needs a little defoliating to keep the fruit free from leaves.
This is a great colour and hugely popular in Australia and New Zealand. It is very sweet, with a rich aromatic flavour. It’s a prolific indeterminate variety (at least 10kg/22lb per plant), but the crop tends to come thick and fast and then stops.
This is so-called because it has very high carotene levels and apparently lots of trace elements, which make it super-healthy eaten raw. The fruit can get huge but it is easy to grow, with a delicious salty, rich and acidic flavour and a perfect texture for slicing for salad.It’s tomato-sowing fortnight in the next two weeks so get going as fast as you can. Worton will have plants available from May for planting straight into the garden.
WHERE TO BUY
Four varieties, 'Stupice’, 'Aunt Ruby’s German Green’, 'Orange Banana’ and 'Jaune Flamé’ are available by mail order from specialist American seed company (001 239 768 1119; email customer firstname.lastname@example.org).