sarah's favourite tomato varieties
Join Sarah in the greenhouse at Perch Hill, as she discusses her top tomato varieties for taste, texture and health benefits.
I’m sitting in our lovely greenhouse at Perch Hill and its just jam packed full of tomatoes at the moment, you can see there’s this sort of great harvest festival table centre but it’s because we’ve just got so many tomatoes and one of things I’m going be making this weekend is chilli jam with all of these surplus tomatoes that we’re not quite managing to eat in salads.
Tomatoes just are the very very loveliest thing for August and September produce, I mean you just can’t beat a home grown tomato, it's partly that really unusual scent, I wouldn’t call it perfume, but the smell of a tomato leaf when you crush it and when you're picking them, the whole place - and your hands - is just full of that extraordinary slightly acrid, slightly tobaccoey, amazing amazing smell rather than perfume.
In terms of varieties, if I was to grow just one tomato, I think it would have to be 'Sungold', it's like a sugar bomb. It’s got a very thin skin, it does really well in everybody’s taste trials, it always is supremely high flying and it's really easy, it's really prolific. It’s just an absolute winner tomato with this beautiful sort of sunny golden skin, so 'Sungold' would be my number one.
And then probably number two for me, as a salad tomato, would be this, really strange one, which my children always used to say was the colour of a bruise which rather put them off and actually sometimes when you cut into it - it's called 'Black Krim', it's from the Crimea - it has almost black jelly inside it which is quite odd. But it’s just so deliciously tasty sliced in a salad, it keeps a really good texture and it has an absolute burst in your mouth, incredible tomato flavour. So those two for me would be an all-round everything tomato and an absolutely brilliant salad tomato, which is very good cooked too.
This strange tomato is such a beauty really, middle sized shape and size and sort of very uniform, incredibly shiny. And the thing that is bizarre about them is that they have this blue, sort of apex and then when they are ripe, the bottom goes red, never quite as intensely red as a normal tomato. But this is called 'Indigo Rose' and you can see why, indigo and rose, and it has a double dose of antioxidants, it has got the anthocyanins of blueberries which is really good for brain health and the lycopene of tomatoes which is a really good anti-cancer, antioxidant. So they're tasty, they're prolific, they're good raw, they're good cooked, 'Indigo Rose' is a good all-round tomato.
Whenever we grow tomatoes here, inside or out, but particularly in a greenhouse, you can get a problem with whitefly and particularly if you put cucumbers and tomatoes near each other, they seem to draw whitefly in even more. We don’t use chemicals here, we use biological control with things like the encarsia wasp, which gets sent through the post, but most importantly of all for us we use companion plants. And my favourite of the flowering varieties of the tagetes family, my favourite of that family, is 'Linnaeus', which is this beautiful crimson mahogany variety, single flowers, quite elegant, elegant enough to be a cut flower. A lot of the tagetes are a bit sort of dumpy and a bit heavy headed, I always think of them like a Shetland pony with too many rosettes, the proportion is not quite right but Linnaeus is elegant and dignified so I really recommend and it's brilliant at protecting against whitefly.
And then all the basils, any of the basils, are brilliant protectants against any of the aphid infestations. And in fact, you’ll see that if you go to Greece, you’ll never see basil used in cooking in Greece, they’ll use oregano, they’ll use parsley, they use lots of different things but not basil, because they think of it as an insecticide. And when you sit outside on a Greek summer night there is often a little tin of a growing basil plant in the middle of the table, it’s often Greek bush basil, that very neat, domey one. But that is because it is a very very effective insecticide and keeps the mosquitoes away. And so if you under plant your tomatoes or your aubergines or your peppers or your chillies with a good raft at ground level of any of the basils, then you don’t need to use chemicals.
Cherry tomatoes are really lovely things to grow and if you don’t have a greenhouse, they’re probably the safest ones because they’re easy to ripen in our lower light levels and they get their sweetness more easily without so much sunlight. So, a classic red cherry that’s done well in our trials here is a variety called 'Santonio' and it seems to do well inside or out with us and so that’s a really good red cherry and then 'Sungold' remains my tip top favourite tomato probably, a really good all-rounder.
And then this one which is 'Chocolate Cherry' is is quite an interesting variety and what you’ll find is quite a lot of the modern varieties are moving over to having this sort of strange colouring. Slightly brown, slightly chocolatey and so they are super healthy, so double double dose of antioxidants and healthiness and interestingly on the health front you always get more out of your lycopene absorption, and so more nutrition, if actually they are cooked and and cooked with a little bit of oil and that helps you absorb the antioxidants. So they’re wonderful in a salad but always use olive oil, but in fact for a real maximum nutrition cook them in a sauce.
If I was to add another one and I had room for three, I would probably go for 'Gardener’s Delight'. It’s a small cherry, you can see, a small red cherry, slightly bigger than a cherry normally and there has been so much breeding of varieties that are meant to be better than 'Gardener’s Delight' but whenever we’ve trialled them, all the daughters of 'Gardener’s Delight' just aren’t as good. The flavour is not as good, the productivity is not as good and so for me this still remains an absolute winner.