21 Sep Jewel of the Isle
Isle of Wight Tomatoes
I’m sure most of us have eaten tomatoes and whether you love them or hate them, these amazing fruits (yes, not a vegetable in case you didn’t know) are versatile and internationally loved. Most cultures eat them, be it raw in a salad or cooked in a sauce, as a chutney, a jam, sliced, in sandwiches, in a stew…you get the idea.
So, I was rather pleased to get a call inviting me over to the Isle of Wight to get a proper look at these precious gems and their origins. Call me a nerd but as a caterer and chef, these kind of trips really do rock my boat! The journey over was a bit rocky, to be expected on a ferry boat, and not good if you get motion sickness but I won’t go into any details!
The farm itself is huge and is land to a few mega greenhouses all kept at optimum temperature to make sure the tomatoes are grown in prime conditions. As we walked around the site I couldn’t help but sneak tomatoes in my mouth for a little taster! In fact, I kept popping those babies in my gob like it was my last tomato ever! Seriously, they were and are amazing, juicy, sweet and delicious. All those fabulous baby plums and cherries you see for sale in Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons etc. are mostly from the Isle of Wight tomato farm.
The tomatoes are vibrant red in colour and full of flavour. There are big ones of course, and of many different varieties, some so unique they are currently kept in their own greenhouse under lock and key in top secret official style! Grown for specific businesses, until they are ready to be launched I can’t say a word…
I knew a bit about tomatoes but getting to meet the growers and see their sheer passion and hard work going in to making our salads and meals taste better gave me a warm glow of pride. Do you know your Golden Pomodorino from your Jack Hawkins Beef or Angelle Plum? I didn’t but Isle of Wight Tomato growers put me on the straight and narrow!
Over 40 tomato varieties are currently being cultivated on the island and these growers want to keep challenging the public to get to know their great, home grown tomatoes. I think it’s a lovely idea, as many of us never take enough time to really understand what we eat, where it comes from, how it’s grown and indeed what varieties there are. We live in a diverse world people!
The abundance of sunshine and warmer climate on the Isle of Wight allows tomatoes to be grown for longer on the vine, which produces more sugar, making Britain’s sweetest and tastiest tomatoes, bursting with vitamins and minerals. Today, Wight Salads Group nurseries, nestled in the Arreton Valley are now the single biggest tomato grower in the UK.
And so on to The Tomato Stall. You’ve probably seen their range of gorgeous, natural products at Borough Market amongst places and have become award winning artisans in their own right. Based in the Isle of Wight not far from the tomatoes (and part of the Wight Salads Group) they take full advantage of the locally grown tomatoes to make a quality range of ready-to-use products. Their Isle of Wight Tomato Ketchup is naturally sweet with a slightly coarser more natural texture than ordinary smooth versions. My kids thought it was the best Ketchup they’d ever had! I used it in a few different dishes including my Turkish vegetable stew and it added that extra little oomph to the meal.
I also tried the Isle of Wight Oak Roasted Tomatoes which are frankly good enough to munch straight from the pot. I couldn’t stop smelling these gorgeous fruits. They were the perfect balance of sweet and oaky flavours. I used it in a few dishes including in a soft wholemeal roll of prawn cocktail and lettuce, in a jacket potato with feta cheese crumbled on top and and in a simple salad of Italian leaves and sautéed asparagus (British of course) topped with some Sumak vinegar. Not surprisingly this is one of their best sellers.
So, rush out and get yourself some of these lovely ruby gems available widely at most supermarkets. They are worth every penny and once you’ve tried them, anything else will seem second best!
The Wight Salads Group supplies Isle of Wight tomatoes nationally to Ocado, Marks & Spencer, Sainsburys, Waitrose and Wholefoods.
For more information on the Isle of Wight Tomatoes and The Tomato Stall go to: http://thetomatostall.co.uk/