Juicy, vibrant and bursting with flavour: tomatoes are one classic ingredient that we can’t get enough of. From those little red cherry tomatoes that are perfect in fresh salads, to sundried tomatoes that jazz up risotto, and slow-roasted heirloom tomatoes that blend to create a fragrant soup, tomatoes are a truly special produce.
In fact, it’s so special that it has a whopping two weeks dedicated to it – and we’re not complaining! Every year, the British Tomato Growers’ Association puts a spotlight on the produce with the British Tomato Fortnight, hosted from 25th May-7th June, 2020. At a time like this, it’s especially important to celebrate local produce, and to support the farmers and growers who are working particularly hard during the current climate to continue producing high-quality tomatoes for all of us to enjoy. We perhaps take for granted that we’ll always have access to ripe and juicy tomatoes, so now is a great time to just give thanks to those who help put those delicious tomatoes on our plates, to find out what makes British tomatoes so special, and of course, to discover exciting recipes to make the most of this brilliant vegetable.
Before we get into things, let’s clear the air. Is tomato a fruit? Or is it a vegetable? Well, it doesn’t truly matter to us because tomatoes still taste delicious, but they are, in fact, fruits as they contain seeds!
Types of tomatoes
When it comes to varieties, the main ones you’ll find in shops in the UK are classic tomatoes, cherry and cocktail tomatoes, plum and baby plum tomatoes, beef tomatoes and vine or truss tomatoes. Each variety has its own special characteristic and flavour. Classic tomatoes are ideal for salads and barbecues, plum tomatoes are the ultimate pizza topping, and beef tomatoes are perfect for stuffing and roasting.
Tomatoes aren’t only delicious, they’re healthy too! These vibrant fruits are a good source of vitamins A, C and E, as well as carotenoids (a natural plant pignment that acts as an antioxidant for humans) and flavonoids. Tomatoes also contain potassium, which is said to help lower blood pressure, as well as calcium, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth.
Growing your own tomatoes
You may think that bursting tomatoes that bask in the sun are an image strictly limited to the Mediterranean landscape, but actually growing your own tomatoes in the UK is easy and perfectly doable, even in our chillier and wetter climate. They’re ideal for first-time growers, too, as the plants are easy to get going, quick to reach maturity and once they start producing their flavoursome fruits, there’s no stopping them! You don’t have to have a huge garden either, as there’s a variety to fit every space: compact cherry tomatoes for hanging baskets by the front door; vigorous-growing vine toms for both greenhouse and outdoor cultivation in pots, grow bags or in the ground. For a step-by-step guide on growing and cultivating tomatoes at home, our sister title, Grow Your Own, has you covered.
How to support local producers
One of the best ways to support British farmers, growers and producers, is simply to purchase their products! There’s no doubt that our reliance on imported produce is ever-present, but when delicious varieties are produced right here in the UK, choosing British means we can enjoy tomatoes that are fresher, riper and in turn, more nutritious. Whether you’re at a market, zero-waste shop or supermarket chain, keep an eye out for products marked with a Union Jack flag, which identifies produce grown in the UK.
Julie Woolley of the British Tomato Growers’ Association said: “Unlike other tomatoes, British tomatoes differ in the sense that British tomato growers actively use a natural means of pest and disease control, as well as growing their tomatoes in glasshouses, protected from the outside and the cold, yet still able to soak up the sunshine. As British growers supply the ‘local market’, this means the tomatoes stay on the plant for longer, develop the best flavour, and are as fresh as they could possibly be. Four out of five tomatoes now eaten in the UK are imported, so it is no coincidence that people complain about the lacklustre taste of tomatoes, with the consensus being that they don’t taste like they used to. Whilst there are some great growers across Europe, their tomatoes have to travel overseas, which simply means they aren’t as fresh. However, by buying British, you regain the super sweet, juicy, wonderful taste. And please don’t refrigerate your tomatoes – this spoils their flavour, where tomatoes are concerned!”
Okay, now that our mouths are watering, here are some zesty tomato-based recipes for you to celebrate the British fruit…