Darina Allen: Each tomato variety has an intriguing story

Darina Allen: Each tomato variety has an intriguing story

The garden is absolutely bursting with beautiful fresh produce at present, summer vegetables, berries, currants, edible flowers... scarcely enough meal slots to get around to using it all.

This week I’m just going to focus on tomatoes: A delicious reward for all the seed sowing, watering, pruning and harvesting.

We used to be commercial tomato growers, my father-in-law, Ivan Allen built his first glasshouse in Shanagarry in the late 1920s but nowadays we only grow small quantities but many varieties. 

Lots and lots of cherry tomatoes because they tend to be more productive than the larger tomatoes, super easy to grow and deliciously sweet when allowed to ripen on the vine.

We grow both red and yellow varieties; Sun-Gold is a relatively new hybrid, bred for its tangy sweet flavour. 

It ripens to a golden orange colour and tends to split when really ripe but that doesn’t bother me.

We also grow more than 25 different varieties of heirloom or heritage tomatoes. 

The seeds for these open pollinated, non-hybrid cultivars were carefully passed on from one dedicated seed saver to another at a time when many of these tomatoes were not considered worth growing because they had a shorter shelf life, a lower yield and didn’t fit the supermarket criteria for a uniform product.

Commercial tomatoes were picked off the plant under-ripe and became progressively less flavourful, particularly during winter months. 

Consumers moaned and surprisingly the plant breeders and supermarkets listened — first we got vine-ripened tomatoes which were supposedly better and certainly more expensive but rarely more flavourful.

Next, there were varieties that were grown ‘for flavour’ no less, which begs the question, what exactly were they grown for previously? 

Well, we all know the answer — profit of course, all part of the relentless commodification of food, absolutely nothing to do with nourishment, nutrient density or flavour.

Back to the heirloom tomatoes — there are literally hundreds of different varieties of every size, shape and colour. 

Some are round, others pear-shaped, elongated, heart-shaped, or pleated. 

Some plants produce only three or four tomatoes weighing up to a kilo each, others like the wild Argentinian are smaller than a marble but produce 20 or 30 intensely sweet, teeny weeny, super cute fruit on each truss. 

We love them and so do the grandchildren who eat them like smarties.

We just have the red variety this year but there’s also a yellow version called Gold-Rush currant that gets good press to put on next year’s list.

Each tomato variety has an intriguing story but best of all, each tastes different, many are super juicy, some are tart, others have complex bittersweet flavours, not just the one dimensional sweetness that some of the newer varieties now have.

I first came across some of these heritage tomatoes at the San Francisco Farmers Market in California over 20 years ago, strange looking tomatoes bursting with flavour, bizarre shapes, intriguing names. 

The word quickly spread and customers craving flavour flocked to buy them. Soon they were on the supermarket shelves, grown commercially but sadly, a shadow of the originals and once again much more expensive.

Reality is, if we want tomatoes bursting with sunny flavour, we need to grow our own or buy from home gardeners, Farmers Markets or from local shops.

Some of my favourite varieties are Oxheart (a red or yellow meaty tomato), Brandy Wine, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra (a juicy green fleshed tomato), Yellow Pear (bright yellow and pear shaped), Dancing with the Smurfs (an amazing slightly tart purple, blue tomato that develops a red tinge when completely ripe. 

Speckled Roman, a beautiful elongated tiger-striped tomato and Burpee Delight, Black Russian, Orange Bourgoin, Tigerella, all super delicious.

But a word of caution, just because they are heirloom tomatoes doesn’t necessarily mean they will taste great. 

Choose tomatoes that smell intensely tomatoey and feel heavy for their size, that means they will be deliciously juicy.

A few recipes to celebrate your delicious harvest.

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart

Serves 8

This gorgeous tart was inspired by a photo on the cover of Delicious magazine last year. 

The ricotta and pecorino filling is uncooked so assemble close to the time of eating. Best made in late summer or early autumn when the tomatoes are exquisitely sweet. 

We use the delicious buffalo ricotta made in West Cork.

170g (6 oz) of Savoury Short Crust Pastry


250g (9oz) buffalo ricotta

100g (3½oz) Pecorino, grated on a microplane

2 tbsp double cream

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp honey

2 tbsp basil, mint or thyme and marjoram or a mixture

Lemon zest of half an organic lemon

Flaky sea salt

¼ tsp cracked black pepper

650g (1lb 6oz) mixed heritage and cherry tomatoes – we used striped zebra (green), red and yellow cherry tomatoes

Basil leaves

First make the pastry. Cover, chill and line a tart tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes in a moderate oven or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.

Brush the prebaked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 5-10 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.

Meanwhile, put the ricotta into a bowl, add the pecorino, double cream, extra virgin olive oil, honey, freshly chopped herbs, grated lemon zest, flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Mix gently, taste and correct the seasoning.

Taste a little dollop with a slice of tomato, correct the seasoning if necessary, you may need a little more honey.

Not long before serving spoon the ricotta filling into the fully cooked pastry case, slice the tomatoes thinly, arrange the bigger ones, including green zebra on top of the ricotta first. 

Then add a mixture of the smaller cherry ones cut in half lengthways and crosswise to cover the whole surface.

Season with flaky sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, a little drizzle of remaining honey, (about a half teaspoon) and lots of thyme, marjoram leaves and some little basil leaves.

Serve soon.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil, Olive Oil and Runny Honey

Serves 4

The Ballymaloe Cookery School stall at the Midleton Farmers’ Market has a unique selection of organic heirloom tomatoes from the greenhouses in all shapes and sizes. 

They make a divine tomato salad and are wonderful with fresh buffalo mozzarella or ricotta and lots of fresh basil.

8 very ripe heirloom tomatoes

Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1–2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp runny honey

2 tsp fresh basil leaves, torn

Cut the tomatoes into haphazard shapes. Sprinkle with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix the oil, lemon juice and honey together. 

Add the basil leaves, pour the mixture over the tomatoes and toss gently. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. 

A little freshly squeezed lemon juice enhances the flavour in a very delicious way. 

Serve immediately with fresh baked crusty bread.


Serves 4-6

Darina Allen: Each tomato variety has an intriguing story

We love to make this cold soup in the Summer with the vine ripened tomatoes in the greenhouses that are bursting with flavour — serve as a starter or as a refreshing drink for picnics.

700g (1½lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped

3 thick slices good quality stale bread, crusts removed and chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

425ml (15fl oz pint) fresh tomato juice

2 roast and peeled red peppers

110g (4oz) onion, peeled and chopped

1 medium cucumber, chopped

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp homemade mayonnaise optional

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper and sugar

Darina Allen: Each tomato variety has an intriguing story


2 red peppers, de-seeded and finely diced

1 small cucumber, finely diced

4 very ripe tomatoes, finely diced

4 slices bread made into tiny croutons and fried in olive oil

2 tbsp diced black olives or small whole olives

1 small onion, diced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp freshly chopped mint

Put the tomatoes, chopped bread, crushed garlic, tomato juice, roasted red pepper, chopped onion, cucumber, olive oil and mayonnaise into a food processor or blender. 

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Whizz until smooth. 

Dilute with water and chill, taste and correct the seasoning.

Serve the garnish in separate bowls. Guests help themselves, the soup should be thick with garnish. 

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, on a very hot day and add an ice cube or two if you wish.

Chettinad Tomato Rice

Serves 12

I first tasted this dish in Karakudi in South India - delicious on its own or as an accompaniment to a piece of pan grilled fish or chicken breast.

100g (3½oz) ghee or clarified butter

100g (3½oz) vegetable oil

2 pieces (2 inches) cinnamon sticks

4 pods of green cardamom

2 bay leaves

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

1-2 green chillies, split in half

3 large ripe tomatoes (300g/10oz), blanched, peeled and finely chopped (like a thick purée)

500g (18oz) Basmati rice, soaked for 15 – 30 minutes

900ml (1.6 pints) water or chicken stock

225ml (8fl oz) coconut milk

½ tsp of turmeric

1½ tsp salt to taste, needs plenty

Darina Allen: Each tomato variety has an intriguing story

Heat a deep saucepan. Add the oil and ghee or clarified butter.

Add the cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves.

Add the chopped onion and green chillies. Sauté until all the ingredients turn a pale golden colour. Add the raw tomatoes. 

Stir for 3-4 minutes. Add soaked and drained rice, chicken stock or water, coconut milk, salt and turmeric. 

Bring to the boil. Cover with a lid. 

Cook on gentle heat until the rice is cooked and all the liquid is absorbed, 10 minutes approximately.

Remove from the heat. Keep pan covered until serving.

Hot Tips

All Together Now

View this post on Instagram

THEATRE OF FOOD PRESENTS ‘AN EVENING WITH ...' Each evening in the Theatre of Food we will have a set menu 2-hour dining experience from 7pm until 9pm. You will get to meet and talk to the chef as they cook for you. FULL DETAILS - www.alltogethernow.ie/food-feast FRIDAY EVENING - KEVIN THORNTON 👨‍🍳🥩🍽 Friday sees the return of Kevin Thornton for another incredible food journey. Thornton, who has had a brace of Michelin stars to his credit, hosts Food for Life - a three-course meal for 25 guests on the festival's Friday evening. Food For Life is part of All Together Now's a sustainable mission. "The idea is green land, clean air and using ingredients that are close," says Thornton. BOOK HERE - https://bit.ly/2GrSdqP ----------- SATURDAY EVENING - KERALA KITCHEN PRESENT A THALI FEAST 🌶🌶🌶 A thali gives you a taste of everyday Indian food, served up on a traditional metal thali plate. You will get to try Kerala Kitchen’s all-time favourite curries, including roadside bean curry, deadly dal, Kerala coconut chicken and prawn moilee. All served up with rice, raita, kuchumber and freshly-baked naan. Our head chef Bhupal promises to fill the place with the aroma of fresh curry leaves cooking, spices sizzling and sauces simmering! You will see how we blend and grind our spices, make our curries and chef Shoorbeer will demonstrate how we cook our naan in a traditional tandoor oven. This will be as close as you can get to an authentic Indian food experience without having to jump on a plane. BOOK HERE - https://bit.ly/2LEBxAu ----------- SUNDAY EVENING - SOVA BUTCHER PRESENT A VEGAN FEAST! 🥦🥕🥔🍠 Sova Vegan Butcher is a purveyor of fine dining with vegan food prepared according to our own delicious and unique style. They put great care in composing vegetarian and vegan dishes that taste excellent while providing all the essential nutrients with the benefit for your body and soul. Our aim is to promote vegan food and a healthy lifestyle. BOOK HERE - https://bit.ly/30WV6rB ----------- ALL TICKETS ARE SOLD OUT ☀️ If you would like to register interest in next year’s festival, you can do so here: www.alltogethernow.ie/members

A post shared by All Together Now (@alltogethernow.ie) on

This weekend sees the second annual All Together Now festival take place at Curraghmore Estate, Co Waterford. 

This Summer festival with a focus on sustainability was a great success last year and this year includes some truly special dining experiences. 

Using some of the best local food producers and suppliers, ‘Just Eat Together Now’ is a new dining experience at this year’s festival. 

You and your friends can enjoy an elegant, brunch, lunch or dinner on the front lawn of Curraghmore House across the weekend of the festival. 

For more information www.alltogethernow.ie

Another date for your diary

Ireland’s Festival of Nations will take place on Sunday, August 24, from 12pm to 6pm, in Mountjoy Square Park. Dublin 1. 

This is a free event for the whole family, a great line up of performers from around the world, including children’s entertainment and other attractions taking place throughout the day. 

A host of international street food traders will be serving delicious food from all around the globe; www.irelandsfestivalofnations.com.

What’s on at Ballymaloe Cookery School

The much-requested five-Week Cooking Course, specially created for those who cannot commit for 12 weeks is beginning on August 5; www.cookingisfun.ie

More on this topic

Byron burger death: Doctor calls for better research into food allergiesByron burger death: Doctor calls for better research into food allergies

Twitter is freaking out about how cashews growTwitter is freaking out about how cashews grow

How to make Leiths lemon meringue cakeHow to make Leiths lemon meringue cake

How to make Leiths chocolate and orange marbled loaf cakeHow to make Leiths chocolate and orange marbled loaf cake

More in this Section

We Show Films: ‘I once found a full rotisserie chicken in the cinema’We Show Films: ‘I once found a full rotisserie chicken in the cinema’

Sounds from a Safe Harbour brings fine music and good vibes to CorkSounds from a Safe Harbour brings fine music and good vibes to Cork

5 things for the week ahead5 things for the week ahead

Islands of Ireland: Horse, trading, and DrishaneIslands of Ireland: Horse, trading, and Drishane

Latest Showbiz

The American actor has played the Incredible Hulk since 2012.Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo weighs in on that Boris Johnson metaphor

Hailey and Justin are thought to have married in September 2018.Hailey Bieber: Nobody knows what’s really going on between Justin and I

The singer-songwriter told fans she woke up ‘and my voice just wasn’t there’.Emeli Sande apologises to fans for pulling out of gig after losing voice

Fans were upset to see an explicit image appear on the singer’s social media page.Nicole Scherzinger targeted by Instagram hacker

More From The Irish Examiner