What do you think of when you think of tomatoes? Watery? Bland? Farm of Ideas intern Alyssa Mittiga is here to dispel that common misconception.
Walking through your local supermarket you are sure to get tomatoes. Like bananas, they are a kitchen staple – inexplicably available all year long. No matter the season, you are sure to find beef, cherry and jersey tomatoes.
So, yes, tomatoes are common. Their diversity, however, is not.
There is no doubt about it, the seasonality and diversity of the tomato fruit is sadly dying out and as that happens, so is their popularity. The lack of diversity has turned consumers perception of tomatoes into something like that of commercial broccoli – bland, dull and watery.
That is why sharing the diversity of our tomato seeds at the Farm of Ideas brings me such joy. We have over 15 varieties of tomatoes from all over the world, from old seeds and new, some common and some that exist only through acts of seed saving and smuggling. Each one with its own unique colour, flavour and shape.
Take the Lucky Tiger, this is a firm greenish-red tomato that has the shape of a plum. You can eat it just like candy, it is zesty and sweet. The Bsag-Tot-Rus, however, is larger, peach coloured and fleshy. It’s much juicier, like a soft fruit.
I think my absolute favourite would have to be the cherry bomb: small, perfectly round and intense. The chefs seem to be a fan of the Stripped German, it’s big… like huge! And has an umami essence that is “perfect for a BLT sandwich”.
It’s not just the farm that’s excited by this diverse array. The chefs working in the Relæ Community act like it’s Christmas every time their supply arrives, fresh from the farm. I know right… Chefs! They’re just as surprised – and slightly overwhelmed – by the diversity of this one fruit.
It can be overwhelming because produce this good deserves to be handled with care. Why overwhelm something that’s already so perfect? This is why over at Manfreds they are slicing them like sashimi, plating three or four varieties together and serving them raw, with extra virgin olive oil and oregano – to let the tomato do all the talking.
At Relæ, they take the form of a dessert that separates the Black Krim, Striped German and the Dattelwein on the plate into three sections, resting on a bed of set farm milk, topped with a pickled rosehip puree. When they bring this dish out, looking like a traffic light, they encourage guests to taste each variety individually, to truly showcase the differences that exist within the greenhouses right now.
Meanwhile, over at BÆST, it’s a tomato takeover! As they offer a limited-edition tasting menu that shows off these incredible fruits in all their glory. Ranging from Bloody Marys to bruschetta, the diversity of the menu reflects the diversity of this plant.
It is being able to provide this kind of informative experience that, to me, proves our effort to grow such diverse seed varieties makes the Farm of Ideas more of a social justice project than a simple service to our restaurants. As farmers, particularly as young, food policy conscious farmers, it is vital that we sow seeds not only for the sake of flavour but also for the sake of activism, of seed saving and of biodiversity! Really, how much flavour can there be without any diversity?
The world is a much more exciting place when we keep it interesting, and our tomatoes season this year has proved this. To learn more about seed saving and swapping, be sure to check out Seed Exchange Festival where we will run workshops, tours and discussions.