This week marks the start of a fortnight of celebrations around one of the most versatile of all kitchen staples; the humble British Tomato. From chilli con carne, lasagne, soup, pizza and salads, this perfectly formed beauty packs a real punch flavouring some of the nations favourite meals.
But, did you know that one of the UK's leading growers of British Tomatoes is right here in Chichester? We caught up with Paul Faulkner, Commercial Director at Eric Wall Nursery to get the vine on all things tomato for #BritishTomatoFortnight.
Eric Wall Nursery is a family-run business producing over 4 million kgs of British Tomatoes every year for some of the nations leading supermarkets; Sainsbury's, Waitrose and Lidl. Plus, they also supply some of the UK's leading restaurants, including the 2018 Masterchef champion Kenny Tutt's new restaurant PITCH opening this weekend in Worthing.
Interestingly, Paul tells us that they grow six different varieties of tomato in their West Sussex glasshouses, namely Roterno, Sunstream, Sophie-Jane, Arlinta, Ruby Jewel and Caramella. With a mixture of traditional and modern methods, Paul tells us that the nursery can grow and supply tomatoes all year round. Bumble Bees are used to pollinate the plants while predatory insects are used to control pests instead of pesticides. State of the art computer systems and energy efficient technology keep the glasshouses at optimum growing temperatures and watering the crops is also managed sustainably by the collection of rainwater from the glasshouse roofs into an on-site reservoir. The water from the reservoir is then used to irrigate the crops while also providing a thriving wildlife habitat for frogs, newts, ducks and swans.
So with all these different varieties of tomatoes to choose from, which one should you pick up in the weekly shop? Paul explains that all the varieties grown at Eric Wall nurseries have their own unique place in the kitchen, so why stop at just one and give them all a try!
Roterno is your classic large round tomato on the vine, with a deep red colour and soft juicy texture, its ideal sliced with Mozzarella cheese, garnished with fresh basil and drizzled in olive oil.
Sunstream is a midi plum tomato grown on the vine, with a wonderful thick texture and sweet flavour. Try sliced in half, sprinkled with Feta cheese and olives on a bed of Cos lettuce for a great Greek salad.
Sophie-Jane is named after owner Chris Walls' daughter and is a super sweet Cherry on the vine tomato. Ideal for snacking on but also delicious when roasted on the vine in the oven for 20 minutes.
Arlinta is deep red medium vine tomato. Its sweet, well-balanced flavour offers perhaps the ultimate in tomato versatility.
Ruby Jewel (Paul's favourite!), is a modern update on a plum tomato but holds much more flavour than its traditional counterpart. Adding them to a salad is an instant hit, but because of their thick juicy texture and larger size they're ideal for roasting or even stuffing.
Last but not least is a newly launched variety into Sainsburys stores called Caramella. It’s available in local stores and is a caramel colour cherry on the vine with a supersweet flavour.
Did you know? Tomatoes are best kept at room temperature in the fruit bowl? Storing them in the fridge alters the natural ripening process and removes some of the flavours. We have a saying in the trade, says Paul, "The fridge does the flavour no favours!" So keep them out to enjoy them at their best.
Unlike their European friends, (who need to be picked and packed earlier in the ripening process to make the long journey to the supermarket shelves), British Tomatoes are fuller and tastier. As producers can leave the fruits on the vine for longer, allowing for a much sweeter, juicier tasting fruit that can be picked and delivered quickly to the customer. So buying British not only supports the local producers and the local economy, but it also tastes better too!
So, what is Pauls top tip for the keen vegetable gardener looking to grow tomatoes at home?
Tomatoes need only watering little and often and it's essential to choose a variety that's right for your growing environment whether that's a greenhouse, vegetable patch or hanging basket. Choosing the right variety will ensure you get a successful crop to enjoy all summer.
British Tomato Fortnight runs from 20 May - 2 June 2019. Find out more about Eric Wall Nurseries