Archive for the ‘Tomatoes’ Category

Flashy Butter Oak LettuceLettuces started off in the greenhouse and planted out in my front garden about 5 weeks ago are just about ready to have leaves harvested. This is the gorgeous ‘Flashy Butter Oak’ (above) from The Real Seed Catalogue, looking a little tatty at the edges from slugs and snails, but as it’s survived so far (not all of them did), I’m hoping it will now flourish.Reins des Glaces LettuceAnother little beauty from The Real Seed Catalogue is ‘Reine des Glaces’, a cultivar that’s about 200 years old.  Lovely crunchy sweet leaves work really well with softer lettuces and its curly spikeyness is so darn decorative in the garden. I love it!

Forellenschluss Lettuce (soeckled like a trout)

Forellenschluss (meaning speckled like a trout apparently) has similar colourings to the above ‘Flashy Butter Oak’, but it’s an Austrian heirloom Cos lettuce, so will hopefully develop some nice crunchy upright leaves. (I do like a good crunch in my salads these days.) It also looks a lot like Freckles, another delightful Cos, but maybe a bit looser in shape. Seeds available from the ever entertaining Chiltern Seeds. I’ll keep on harvesting just the outer leaves of these lettuces, so they should last me a good couple of months, and I know that it’s time to sow another batch of lettuces right now, although if I get round to this is another matter…

Lettuce seeds waiting in the wings are: ‘Cocarde’ and ‘Red Sails’ (from Nicky’s Seeds) and ‘Crisp Mint’, ‘Really Red Deer Tongue’ and ‘Devil’s Tongue’, (all from The Real Seed Company).

Should I develop a glut of leaves, Nigel Slater has a great recipe for lettuce, pea and mint soup in ‘Tender: Volume 1’. Very tasty and utterly refreshing. I wish I’d discovered this years ago.

Golden Streaks Mustard leafMy mustard leaves sown at the same time are now going to seed (‘Golden Streaks’ above), and although the leaves are getting spicier by the day, still taste great when used sparingly in salads, as do the flowers.

Sweet CicelyAnd Sweet Cicely adds a lovely aniseed note to the mix too.
Front garden lettuce bed with alliums and mustard leavesIt’s so lovely to have dinner on my doorstep, with the odd bit of decoration too.  (Allium Globemaster just about to come into bloom there.)
Front garden veg bed with runner beans and tomatoesAnd bed no. 2 has runner beans, tomatoes, sweet peas and radishes for more front garden veg (and deliciously scented blooms) later in summer. (Mustard leaf ‘Red Giant’ at the front of the bed, also just about to go to seed.)

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Sweet aperitif and Golden Crown tomatoes I haven’t been quite as scientific as I’d set out to be with my tomato growing this year. However, out of the selection of tomatoes I did grow, two varieties have really shone out both in texture and in flavour.

‘Sweet Aperitif’ (the small red fruits above) from Thomson and Morgan have been growing abundantly in long trusses in my greenhouse and the sweetness of taste is divine. I’ve also grown ‘Gardeners Delight’ in my greenhouse (and outdoors) as a sort of baseline, and although they’re reasonably sweet and perfectly acceptable to eat, they don’t come anywhere near the delicious taste sensation of ‘Sweet Aperitif’.

I have managed to grow ‘Golden Crown’ (from Sea Spring seeds) both indoors and out and they have a wonderfully tangy taste along with a lovely amount of sweetness and a firm texture. Strangely, the ‘Golden Crown’ tomatoes grown in my greenhouse have a mushier texture than those grown in the garden and aren’t quite as sweet, and this goes for the ‘Gardeners Delight’ too and the majority of the tomatoes I’ve grown in my greenhouse. Not quite sure why this would be. I did use a new sort of compost (made from sheep’s wool) to plant them in this year and am wondering if this could have been overly water retentive for these divas, although I did use the same compost outside. More questions than answers here.

What I do know is that I shall be growing both of these tomatoes again as both are early fruiting, delicious to eat and wonderfully gorgeous to look at, and you can’t get better than that in my (tomato growing) book.

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Sungold 2

Sungold tomato

I was chatting to fellow tomato enthusiasts recently and as we nattered on about favourite varieties, I was surprised to hear that they found ‘Sungold’ (above) too sweet. Too sweet! In my book a tomato that is too sweet doesn’t exist, but this very same reaction was elicited from a buyer at a large seed company soon afterwards. Well I never!

Said buyer said that his current favourite was ‘Rosella’, another gorgeous looking cherry tomato, but reddish with hints of black, so now I plan to grow this variety in order to compare the two. In fact, I’m planning on growing 9 different varieties, some old favourites and some gorgeous looking new (to me) varieties to find out which varieties I enjoy the most.

Now I don’t have a vast amount of space to grow in, and I want to go a bit wild with lettuces this year (more posts to come on this subject), but the taste, texture (and smell) of home-grown tomatoes is wonderful, miles better than fruits bought in the shops, and growing your own offers a far wider choice of varieties to eat too!

This year I have also purchased a rather lovely greenhouse (first one ever), which will hopefully give me a little more scope with my tomato growing experiments.

Black Krim tomatoes

Black Krim tomato-Gorgeously knarly.

So this summer I shall be growing:

  • ‘Sungold’ , top pic, which never disappoints!
  • ‘Rosella’-thoses hints of black do look tasty
  • ‘Indigo Blue Berries’ from Nicky’s Nursery. Nicky says that these ‘just pop in your mouth and explode with flavour’ and I’m still searching for a delicious black tomato which tastes as good as it looks..
  • ‘Black Krim’ , above, which ripened surprisingly well when grown outdoors and produced huge brutes of a fruit with a meaty texture and a great flavour. What’s not to love!
  • ‘Ananas Noir’ Another beast of a tomato, my favourite from the selection I  tasted at the  Chateau de la Bourdaisiere in the Loire a couple of summers ago, and the cook’s favourite out of the 630 varieties that they grow! Yes, 630!  Now that I can give it some heat in my greenhouse, hopefully I’ll get a good and tasty crop!
  • ‘Sweet aperitif’ A bright red sweet cheery tomato recommended  by Michael Perry at Thomson and Morgan
  • ‘Gardeners Delight’ An old faithful and very reliable cropper of red cherry tomatoes and a good bench mark for the rest of the cherries.
  • ‘Gold Crown’ A sweet and tasty yellow cherry tomato from Sea Spring Seeds
  • Green Envy’ Emerald green small oval fruits, also from Sea Spring Seeds. Can’t wait to taste these.
Indigo Rose tomatoes close

Indigo Rose tomato

I have to admit to being a sucker for good looks when it comes to a vegetable. Who wouldn’t want a salad bowl full of exciting colours and shapes as well as great tastes.  Last year I was seduced by ‘Indigo Rose’. For months it provoked admiring comments from all who passed by as it grew and ripened in my front garden. Sadly, after such wonderful promise, it really came up short on taste, as well as having a mushy texture, and although Michelle at Veg Plotting did say that it made a good tomato sauce, I’m not tempted to grow it again with such limited growing space and so many other exciting varieties out there to try.

Certainly the trend for black tomatoes is strong and Nicky from Nicky’s Nursery says that her top sellers at the moment are ‘Black Cherry and ‘Black opal’ as well as ‘Rosada’ (baby red plum), ‘Sungold’ and ‘Black Krim’. In the past I’ve found that small cherry tomatoes ripen best when outdoor growing has been my only option and I’m going to grow a few varieties indoors and out to see if there’s a great difference in taste.

Tomatoes at Great Dixter

When I’ve holidayed in the Loire over the last few summers, it’s always been a real treat to eat/gorge myself on tomatoes  (I particularly enjoyed almost crunchy, sweet green tomatoes last time I was there), but I know I can never match such warm growing conditions, so closer to home, it’s always worthwhile seeking out local nurseries who hold tasting days at the end of summer. A visit to Victoriana Nursery back in 2011 (in Ashford in kent) was a great way to find out which varieties I might like to grow, and they’ll be holding a tomato open day agin this year on 15th August (with over 80 varieties to try and some new blight resistant varieties too).

Now I haven’t mentioned blight-resistant varieties on my list, as I’ve found when grown in the ground, plants are healthy and vigorous and have not succumbed to this crushingly frustrating disease. I grow in zone 2 in London, and fellow enthusiasts (who live in more rural settings and have had their fair share of blight) are convinced that it’s the pollution of city growing that keeps the blight at bay. Interesting. I need to research this more, but neither my potatoes or tomatoes have suffered in recent years.

In the meantime, I shall be experimenting away, and looking forward to filling my salad bowl with delicious and handsome fruits come August and September.

P.S I had a really fun time recording a podcast about Tomatoes with Alys Folwer and Jane Perrone for the Guardian. There’s some great ideas for cooking from chef Stevie Parle and wonderful advice from Craig LeHouiller who’s grown over 1000 tomato varieties over the last 30 years https://soundcloud.com/sow-grow-repeat/sow-grow-repeat-tomatoes

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