It’s almost impossible to find a decent tomato in the shops. This is because they are always picked too soon, to allow time for packing, transportation, storage and distribution. A pale tomato is useless, whatever the variety. If it’s pale, it’s unripe and a tomato only develops flavour when it’s fully ripe. A tomato needs to be a deep red colour before it’s plucked from the vine.
It follows that if you want a decent tomato you’ve got to grow it yourself. We’ve experimented this year with growing a few dozen plants outside. We couldn’t have chosen a worse year to try. Just as the fruit was starting to develop the plants were struck by blight and the whole crop was lost. Fortunately we had a bumper crop in the greenhouse.
It’s amusing to reflect that when this house was built in 1865, with its walled kitchen garden and hothouses heated with a coal-fired boiler, it’s unlikely that tomatoes will have been grown. They were viewed with great suspicion, because of their close relation with deadly nightshade. Mrs Beeton included recipes for tomatoes in early editions of her cook-book but added the proviso, “The whole plant has a disagreeable odour and its juice, subjected to the action of the fire, emits a vapour so powerful as to cause vertigo and vomiting”. Come to think of it, that’s much how I feel when I’m given a shop bought tomato. She should have let her ripen.