I grew six varieties from seed as well as small plugs this spring: Sun Belle, Red Cherry, Black Cherry, Sungold Orange, Tumbling Tom Yellow and Rio Grande, which is almost too large to fit into this category. I grew the plants in the ground, in pots on the terrace as well as in the greenhouse.
All gardeners know that the one thing tomatoes need to develop their sweetness is sunshine - which was distinctly lacking at the crucial time, August. So allowances need to be made.
All six delivered in terms of amount - they are still producing, in mid-September, and show no signs of stopping, but the whole point of growing your own toms is to have great flavour, so how did they fare in my taste trials? Read on....
SUN BELLE has a lovely peardrop shape in a gorgeous shade of sunshine yellow, so something pretty for the salad bowl. For looks it scores 10 out of 10, but flavour? Well....it has few seeds, which is a plus, but otherwise the skin is a bit too thick and the flavour is OK, nothing more. Maybe the fact that I grew this plant in the ground, with rather less light due to wayward cucumber plants, has something to do with the poor result. And they are, after all, meant to be cooked rather than eaten fresh.BLACK CHERRY came out well in my tomato taste trial: almost crisp, thin skins, and a lovely sweet flavour with a tart edge comes through - and they look just gorgeous: not too small, plump, and smokey red suffused with green. I grew these outdoors, in a sunny spot against a west wall, but didn't grow any under glass.
RIO GRANDE didn’t turn out to be terribly grand, at least not in pots - the largest were the size and shape of a small hen's egg. Paolo Arrighi of Seeds of Italy says they are juicy enough to eat, meaty enough to cook with, but biting into the thick flesh is a disappointment, even though these had lots of heat and sun in the greenhouse....definitely better cooked, I would imagine.
SUNGOLD ORANGE: an orange-coloured cherry tomato (right), grown as a cordon, is my top tomato for taste: sweet as a nut, especially from the greenhouse. They grow in long trails and look so pretty on the vine. Difficult to get these into the house as such a delight to eat, warm from the sun.
TUMBLING TOM YELLOW: small, sweet and delicious. They look pretty in a bowl, but don't stay there for long.
RED CHERRY almost looked plum in shape, which is strange, as they're meant to be quite round. I grew these in both greenhouse and in the ground, with no discernible taste difference in each: both good flavour, though not outstanding. Paolo Arrighi says that in Naples - where I bet the warm and consistent Med sun gives them a fabulous flavour - they roast them for 1hr 10mins at 110degs, with thyme and salt, then use them to make pasta sauce.
So Sungold Orange is my top tomato, closely followed by Black Cherry and Tumbling Tom Yellow, but that could be just for this year, because there are so many variables with tomato growing, notably the weather. Best to grow several kinds, as I have. And instead of roasting them in the oven, as they do in Naples, I've been frying them in olive oil and butter, and piling them onto toast, bringing out their flavours with a splash of balsamic vinegar, a little sea salt and a liberal scattering of basil leaves....deliciozo! Some, too, have gone into chutney, to be savoured in the depths of winter to remind me nostalgically of summer sunshine.