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Eric Shackle Writes: Just A Few Pips Short Of A Record

Eric Shackle turns his attention once again to giant tomatoes.

To read an earlier story on this subject, and other entertaining columns, please visit Eric's world-famous e-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle/

Canadian Gianfranco Sarin grew a huge, grotesque tomato in his Toronto backyard, hoping to break the long-standing world record of 7 pounds 12 ounces (3.52kg). It turned the scales at 7 pounds 7 ounces (3..175 kg). Nice try, but no cigar.

That was last year, when he won Canada's annual Great Tomato Hunt run by Toronto kitchen store owner Sal Consiglio, aka Mr. Tomato. Last month another Toronto grower, Guiseppi Spatari, took out first prize of $3000 in the 2007 contest, but his entry weighed only 4 pounds 12 ounces (2.155 kg).

Second prize went to David Bertucci from Caledon, Ontario with a 4 pound 10 ounce (2.12 kg) tomato, and third prize to Dr. Marvin Meisner, a retired cardiologist from Pennsylvania USA, for a 4 pound 9 ounce (2.075 kg) fruit.

"We had a very hot summer -- not the best conditions for growing tomatoes this year," Consiglio told us. "But you're right, it will be difficult to beat Gordon Graham's world record.

"Anyways, if we do eventually beat Graham's record great, if not we just enjoy doing the contest anyway as it helps kick off our tomato squeezing season (to make tomato sauce) for our tomato squeezers and accessories plus we donate money to the Heart and Stroke Foundation (over $24,000 Canadian to date)."

[Recently we recalled that 21 years ago Gordon Graham, a painting contractor in Edmond, Oklahoma, grew a tomato weighing 7 pounds 12 ounces (3.52 kg). No one has grown a larger tomato since then, although thousands have tried.]

We asked Sal why so many Italo-Canadians are such good tomato growers. He replied:

It may have something to do with the fact that, as I found out in my research, Italians were one of the first cultures to grow tomatoes as food back in the 1600s or so. Apparently tomatoes did not become widely accepted as food until the early 1800s because many people considered them poisonous as they are from the nightshade family, which includes some very poisonous plants.

Later, the first tomatoes for market were grown in Sicily for markets in Naples and Rome. So there is a lot of history with Italians and tomatoes (and of course tomato sauce). I also found out that the name is derived from the Aztec word `Tomatl' (tomatoes apparently originated in South America and it is thought that Spanish priests brought them to Europe from Mexico in the mid-1500s).

Why are most monster tomatoes so misshapen? Third prize winner Dr. Marvin Meisner from Pennsylvania explained it to Washington Post staff writer Adrian Higgins last month:

"Meisner... searches for a bloom that is fuller than the others, picks it and then plucks all of the petal-like anthers from the flower to reveal not one pistil -- the organ whose base swells to become the actual tomato -- but two fused together.

"A regular tomato has just one. Beefsteak varieties sometimes have two. When you see three, four or more fused pistils, you know you have hit pay dirt in the world of giant tomatoes. Such a flower may produce a tomato for every pistil, all of them morphing into one big, ugly lobed fruit that in weight and appearance resembles a small pumpkin."

Minnie Zaccaria has won the New Jersey Championship Tomato Weigh-in seven times and holds the state record for growing the heaviest tomato, which weighed 6.16 pounds (2.79 kg).

Here in New South Wales, Australia, ABC Radio's Central Coast talkback host Scott Levi told listeners about Gordon Graham's long-standing record, and challenged them to grow an even larger tomato.

He intends to have a go himself, by growing one in a pot in his glass-enclosed studio that he calls The Fishbowl, in the busy Erina shopping centre. . We doubt whether the plant will survive in the air-conditioned atmosphere. Perhaps he'll grow it on the roof.

FOOTNOTE. Sal Consiglio says tomatoes are sometimes called Love Apples because of their reputation as an aphrodisiac. Botanical-online.com says "Tomato is considered to be a good aphrodisiac since it has been proved that eating fresh tomato increases the sexual desire." But GlobalGourmet.com says "Whether any truly amorous reaction occurs is purely speculative."

Home-grown tomatoes NOT bland!

Tomato lovers were quick to defend their favourite fruit after reading a brief note I had written in Anu Garg's AWADmail, in which I described tomatoes as "bland." Here are three emails I received the next day:

Bart, from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, wrote:

You stated: "If malacia means an abnormal craving for spiced food, what's the word for an abnormal craving for bland food? Tomatoes are said to be the world's most popular fruit (although the U.S. Supreme Court once declared them to be vegetables), and they are bland."

Sir, that depends on the variety! Standard store purchased tomatoes, I agree. Much like slightly red colored chewy vinyl. Try a farmers market, or a garden club variety, or a home grown tomato. One grown for flavor rather than for shipping durability. Tomatoes are a very flavorful, even tangy or sweet, fruit when grown to be such.

Jon O'Brien, from Hampshire, 30 miles from London, England, wrote

You're evidently eating the wrong varieties of tomato. Probably the same hard, orange, flavourless varieties that are being sold in most UK shops these days (though they're probably not grown under glass in Holland, as most of ours seem to be). They're varieties chosen to look good, be free from pests and travel well, without any regard for flavour.

A good tomato, ripened on the vine, is far from bland. Quite the opposite. It has a strong, almost spicy flavour that is extremely distinctive. Try to track down some home grown examples of a traditional variety and you'll see what I mean. Better still, as it's the beginning of spring in Oz, get yourself some gro-bags (if you don't have a garden) and find a source of seeds for some of the traditional varieties rarely seen in the shops and grow some yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Patricia Yeargin, from Georgia, USA, wrote:

Please forgive my forwardness, but I had to email you about your AWAD commentary about tomatoes. As a person who lives in the land where home-grown tomatoes are prized (Georgia, USA), I was shocked. Tangy, juicy, orange-red, sun-ripened tomatoes? Bland? I know you probably could [not] care less, but I must defend the honor of one of my favorite fruits.

Good tomatoes are hard to find, but they are so beloved here that one of our southern columnists is widely quoted on the subject. Lewis Grizzard said, "There are 2 things money can't buy: true love and home-grown tomatoes." It's almost true. The store doesn't sell good tomatoes, because they're picked green and 'ripened' on a shelf, but we have been known to make do with them there in the off-season. Everyone in my neighborhood who has a vegetable patch mainly uses it to plant tomatoes. There are little roadside stands on the streets of suburban Atlanta, mainly because people who don't grow their own still want vine-ripened tomatoes. Oh, they sell peaches (their flavor is also sensitive to early picking), watermelons, cantaloupes, etc., but we all know what we want when we go there.

Of all the spicy Italian things we make with tomato sauce, Greek salads, and even the simple tomato sandwich (mayo, salt, and sometimes pepper), it's never occurred to me to think of the tomato as bland. Unless you buy one from the supermarket, of course. And yes, I will agree with you: those are like cardboard. But then again, they aren't 'real' tomatoes.


Winners and their tomatoes http://www.consiglios.ca/html/TomatoHunt/winners2007.html

Natural source of lycopene http://www.botanical-online.com/tomatesangles.htm

Love apples, almonds and mint http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/egg/egg0298/didyouknow.html


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