Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 28 August 2015

Tomato Trials

Tomaoes awaiting our assessment at Thompson and Morgan

Forget your 5 a day, how about eating dozens of tomatoes in a few hours? This sight greeted me at Thompson & Morgan's (T&M) trials ground on Tuesday, ready for 15 or so of us to sample these tomatoes. At the front you can see 8 'traditional' varieties ready for our assessment, with bowls of 9 each of 'coloured' and 'cherry' tomatoes lined up for later.

As with wine tasting, the bottles of water and crackers you can see were much needed accessories to stop our palates becoming jaded, though thankfully we were allowed to swallow our efforts rather than using a spittoon.

The assessment sheet used for the tomato trials day

Much chewing and thought ensued, with us assessing each variety for its appearance, skin thickness, initial taste, juiciness and flavour. I ignored a plea from a fellow assessor for us all to add salt to our tomatoes; I haven't cooked with salt for decades, so I knew his assertion it improves the flavour wouldn't apply to me.

At the end of each round we had to announce our own winner and loser in each category . We turned out to be a fickle bunch, with one person's favourite quite often despised by their neighbour. It's all a matter of taste!

With our assessments totted up, the overall winners and losers were announced, and the names of the tomatoes revealed. Here a little impishness crept in, as T&M's vegetable expert, Colin Randall confessed some supermarket purchases were sprinkled in to see what we made of them. Luckily none of these came out as a winner.

View of the outdoor tomatoes trial
T&M's Colin Randall treads carefully in the outdoor trials plot after Monday's deluge of rain

In between each round of sampling, we were taken around the outdoor and indoor trials areas. Outdoors there's a major blight trial taking place, both as part of a Europe-wide initiative and in T&M's own work with bringing new varieties to market. Other trials included looking at fertiliser treatments and grafted plants.


The Brix Refractometer in use


Tomato flavour, particularly sweetness is one of the key criteria for a successful new introduction, so it was interesting to see the almost instant assessment provided by the pictured Brix Refractometer. Brix is a measurement of sweetness of solutions and is used for a variety of vegetables and fruit. A tomato with a score of 10 or more is considered sweet. It was interesting to see variations in sweetness were found in the same variety grown under different fertiliser regimes.

We were invited to snack along the rows of tomatoes, and I confess that once I'd popped a cherry tomato or two, I simply couldn't stop. I must have eaten around 100 tomatoes of various sizes, shapes and colour on the day.

Collage of the Thompson and Morgan garden at Jimmy's Farm
Main picture and bottom right: general views of the T&M garden at Jimmy's Farm
Top right to bottom: Phlox 'Popstars' mixed, Alstromeria experimental, and Basil 'Crimson King'
Bottom left to right: Rudbeckia 'Caramel' mixed, Nemesia experimental, and Petunia 'Night Sky'

Our assessment duties over, we were invited to Jimmy's Farm for a spot of lunch and to have a look at T&M's new garden there. Unfortunately the day's fine weather turned to rain soon after we arrived, so that part of the visit was cut short. Luckily, I was there a couple of weeks ago for a bloggers' get together, so here's a few photos of what caught my eye from a sunnier time. Click to enlarge for a better view.

Several of the other attendees have blogged about their visit already, so I'll leave the story of that day in their capable hands:

Let me know if I've left anyone out. My thanks to everyone at T&M for 2 fun-filled and educational days.

10 comments:

  1. I agree that (like wine) tomatoes are subject to lots of personal preference factors. I also believe that the taste and texture of a tomato is heavily influenced by the composition of the medium (soil / compost) in which it is grown, along with the amount of sunlight it receives. Many supermarket tomatoes are tasteless because they are grown hydroponically - and bred for regular shape, as well as firmness for transport purposes. My own personal favourite is "Maskotka", a small red one with intense flavour and a thin skin.

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    1. Good points Mark, which we also discussed on the day as well as how crucial time of picking is on flavour. A couple of tomatoes were definitely over-ripe on the day. However, there was a clear winner in each category, so there was some consistency despite the vagaries in out taste. "Maskotka" was included in the cherry tomato trial, though I see from my notes it was neither the worst or best in our trial. My notes says it's good as a container/basket variety - is that how you grow yours?

      We discussed soil-grown vs container grown - there's no doubt that soil grown is better for flavour. I read an interesting snippet in the Evening Standard on the way back from London last week on how hot water (not boiling) can bring out the flavour of shop-bought tomatoes. I'm going to see what happens with my tomatoes...

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  2. Having read Mark's comment I think I shall have to try Maskotka again next year. I have a plant this year but it's not doing very well. I was going to do a post about tomatoes soon, but having seen T&M's varieties all lined up it will be a hard act to follow. Wow! I bet you had a wonderful day, and you've taken some lovely photos.

    I've found some tomatoes a bit too sweet at times, I like them to be fairly tangy. I made a simple tomato sauce for pasta the other day and although it was delicious, I wouldn't have minded if it was less sweet. It's good to see tomatoes growing outdoors, which is where mine always are. And to see that the skin thickness is assessed as well - it's something I find with mine sometimes, that the skins are a bit thick. My most productive and consistent tomato is still Sungold. It's always the first to fruit and it's still going at the end of the season as well. And it almost never fails. I've been impressed with Orkado as well, which is a new one to me this year.

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    1. We tatsted Orkado too CJ in the Traditional varieties slot. Again, it came out as neither the worst or best overall. I see it hails from the Czech Republic and is an outdoor, early ripening variety. A few years ago I went to the Czech Republic and had a look in a shop selling seeds and was amazed by the difference in varieties they have on sale there.

      Sungold's one of my favourites too. You make an interesting point re sweetness and cooking. Paolo from Seeds of Italy made an interesting point when I went to a talk of his some years ago. In Italy they use different varieties for different kinds of eating. The thicker skinned, less sweet varieties are the ones they use for cooking and I can see the sense in that. I'm pondering whether breeding for sweetness is getting a bit too biased in that direction and could perhaps mar the value of other less sweet varieties to our palates. It's a similar line of thought to the remarks re salt improving flavour we heard on the day - not for me as I'm used to not putting salt on my food.

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  3. Wow, what a great day out! I'd have loved it as I always look forward to my tomatoes every year (still waiting as of this year) and like to try new varieties. I think Jimmy's Farm looks good too and may try to find time to head over there. Looks like a nice venue for a bloggers get together too! (Hint!)
    (PS. LOVE the look of that cake as seen on the other posts you've linked too.)
    Caro xx

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    1. I've just (this week) started harvesting my tomatoes Caro, so I'm sure you'll be harvesting yours soon. I'll have a chat to you re Jimmy's Farm the next time we meet up!

      That cake was fab according to the others. Sadly I didn't get to taste it as I was defeated by the giant scone. Who's heard of a garden visitor being defeated by cake? I'm such a light weight ;)

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  4. That's alot of tomato eating. Must have been a fun day!

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  5. 100 tomatoes? You must have crammed your 5-a-day for the next 2 weeks into one afternoon! I remember we did a blind tasting last year at T & M and 'Sweet Aperitif' was the most popular. I have been growing it outdoors this year and I've been extremely happy with it. Thanks for the link to my blog!

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  6. Hi Sarah - I remember our taste test last year :) Sweet Aperitif did well again in our test - it came out top in the cherry tomato category. I'm delighted to link to you and the others re our bloggers day at Jimmy's Farm!

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