British Tomato Week runs from May 15-22 2011. It is a great reminder to us all how truly terrific British tomatoes are. Currently 75% of all tomatoes consumed in Britain are imports from Saudi Arabia - 3,100 miles away - Spain, the Canary Islands and Morocco, which is totally absurd when you consider the fresh, delicious and British tomatoes that are waiting to be devoured right here on our doorstep. This month The Sauce tries Jane Grigson's Cream of Tomato Soup.
The problem with convincing the British consumer to buy British tomatoes is that you are shattering a rose-tinted ideal. Tomatoes evoke memories of the sweet, succulent, deep-red fruit that you feasted on in Spain, when you walked bare-foot along the streets of Seville looking like a bronzed Penelope Cruz/George Clooney, with tomato juice seductively trickling down your chin. They are not synonymous with that pale-skinned day spent on the Cornish coast in a downpour. Tomatoes simply don't look British, nor do they smell British. Therefore it makes perfect sense to buy Spanish tomatoes not only to re-live the taste of that holiday, but also because they are often cheaper.
To dispel the first myth - you didn't look and probably never will look like a bronzed Penelope Cruz/George Clooney - more a sunburnt Brit on holiday who needs a napkin. The tomato eaten in Spain would undoubtedly have been delicious but it most certainly won't taste remotely similar when purchased here. The tomatoes sold in Spain are not the same fruit as the Spanish tomatoes sold here.
The Mediterranean-sun-soaked variety that you savoured in the piazza are totally different tomatoes to the ones that are made to specifically slow-ripen for export, so that they can withstand the four or five days of travel it takes to reach the British supermarkets. This obviously interferes with the natural ripening process so that they never get fully red and ripe. So, whilst British tomatoes may not be identical to their Hispanic brothers their taste will be far superior to any tomatoes imported into the UK.
As to the second myth - the quality and taste of British tomatoes make them far better value for money. There are currently only 40 British tomato growers left in the UK. Most of the small family-run businesses have closed down, unable to produce the big volumes for small prices demanded by the dominant supermarkets. The surviving growers work as hard as they can to allow their tomatoes to ripen naturally on the vine, travel as little as possible and be kept fresh without refrigeration. The British tomato industry has made a commitment to eliminate pesticide use. All British growers now favour a biological approach - introducing pest-munching insects to the glasshouses, using bumble bees to increase pollination and natural substances such as sulphur to help control powdery mildew. There are no GM British-grown tomatoes. The UK growers look after their employees. The British Tomato Growers Association operates an open-door policy on all their farms, inviting the public to go and see for themselves that the fruit is being farmed, picked and packed by fairly-paid, legally-employed workers.
British tomatoes do smell British. Their odour is of that delicious greenhouse smell that evokes images of the best of British summers. They have been grown in the UK since the 1600s and are an integral ingredient to the most popular of dishes served in the UK.
British food is seriously cool at the moment. Morrisons boasted record-breaking sales over the Easter week and Royal Wedding weekend citing their sales of British produce as the big driver. The stay-cation is the ultimate holiday of choice this year. Gary Rhodes dedicates a whole episode of the BBC's The Great British Food Revival to tomatoes. What could be hipper than savouring British tomatoes in Britain - at festivals, camp sites, holiday cottages, barbecues, picnics, in the garden or laughing in the rain. They can be enjoyed in a salad, on a British beef burger, as a tart topping, in a Summer soup, as a juice. The possibilities are endless.
Don't be misled into thinking that British tomatoes are hard and tasteless. Piccolo cherry tomatoes are the sweetest British tomato yet produced, containing up to 12% natural sugar. Other British-grown varieties, especially during the peak season from May to September, include Santa, baby plum tomatoes and cocktail tomatoes such as Red Choice and Aranca. Elegance is a fabulous on-the-vine classic tomato. If you buy tomatoes on the vine then leave them on the vine until you eat them. Don't destroy the flavour of tomatoes by putting them in the fridge. Keep them in the fruit bowl - where they belong.
British tomatoes are available from Farmers Markets, Farm Shops, vegetable box companies such as Abel and Cole and Riverford and all good supermarkets. You can always grow-your-own.
For more information on British Tomato Week [click here].
This month, The Sauce tests out Jane Grigson's Cream of Tomato Soup…
Jane Grigson's Cream of Tomato Soup
- What ingredients did you use and how readily available were they?
500g ripe British tomatoes from Farmers Market
100g chopped British onions from Farmers Market
125g chopped British carrots from Farmers Market
Bouquet garni - made from my own herbs.
1 litre of chicken stock, made using homemade, de-frosted chicken stock. Made from carcass of roast chicken.
1/2 pt local single cream from Farmers Market
- What was the sum total cost of this meal
£1.99 - tomatoes
£0.25 - onion
£0.20 - carrot
£0.69 - single cream
£3.13 in total.
- How many people did it actually feed?
- How long did it take and how easy was it?
It took about 20 minutes. It was really easy to make.
- What did you do with the leftovers?
I doubled the quantities and have frozen some, leaving enough in the fridge for lunch tomorrow.
- What did you and your guests think of the meal?
It was absolutely delicious. I did have to season it but the sweetness of the tomatoes, mixed with the salt of the stock and the richness of the cream made it just sublime. We all agreed that we would never be satisfied by canned soup again.
- Would you cook it again?
Yes and think that I will try serving it cold as a starter next time.
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