'Pineapple' Tomato: Hero of the Month

Hero of the Month: Pineapple Tomato

Shop heirloom Pineapple Tomato seeds 

While more than three thousand varieties of the tomato exist, most of us would only be accustomed to a bare few. And dishearteningly, that few mostly dont exude the wonderful characteristics that exist - of diverse flavour, texture and colour - but rather, they exude transportability. The compounding effect is that as gardeners we tend to grow what we know and hesitate at those that we dont. But just because 2995 varieties of tomato are slightly softer-skinned, or cant grow to a uniform size or may look a little alternative, it doesnt make them any harder to grow.

So this month were shifting gears slightly and rather than looking broadly at a variety of vegetable, were looking more closely into a specific heirloom. Our intention is to highlight the lesser knowns of the food spectrum and show that even the more unusual varieties are achievable for the home gardener. More than that, they represent everything we feel is great about the food. Given that its September were starting with our vegetable soul mate and gardening heavyweight, the tomato. Or rather, the Pineapple Tomato.

Believed to have heralded from Kentucky, in the USA, it is said that German settlers - known to have introduced many tomato types to the region - evolved the variety there. A bicolour beefsteak tomato, that was named for its colour and size, along with its taste, the Pineapple Tomato is a colossal fruit. Yielding up to a kilo in a single tomato it gives you every bit of that kilo in a sweet, meaty flesh, that isnt overburdened with seeds.

The pineapple tomato is not often grown commercially because its ribbed nature makes it difficult to cut to a uniform size. However, if you like to judge on taste, yield and uniqueness, it has it all. Swaggering around in ribbed golden red and orange skin, the flesh of the fruit is equally as captivating with marbled colours only being trumped by flavour. The flesh is extremely sweet and low in acidity, with sometimes a hint and other times a more pronounced citrus-like tang (some put it akin to a pineapple). Even for a tomato lover like myself, the Pineapple Tomato is next level.

When planting from seed, sow in individual seed cells and preferably under the protection of a mini greenhouse to keep them incubated from the early spring cold. Place two seeds, to a depth of 1cm, in each cell and then keep moist until germination, which should take approximately 7-10 days.

Once the seeds have sprouted and are large enough to handle, pull the weaker of the two, allowing the remaining seedling to develop for 3-4 weeks under the security of the mini greenhouse. By that point sometime in October they will be more than ready to begin life in the patch proper, and so its time to transplant.

A hungry feeder and big vine, even by tomato standards, it grows upwards of 2m in height. As a result preparation of the soil and growing infrastructure are paramount. Prior to transplanting integrate plenty of compost and slow-release organic fertiliser to the patch, ensuring that it drains well. If planting in pots, use good quality organic potting mix and sprinkle a handful of slow-release organic fertiliser on the surface. A dash of rock dust is advisable too; this hit of trace elements will ensure against blossom end rot.

Dedicate it the sunniest part of the patch and prior to planting erect a substantial growing frame onto which it will eventually clamber up. Space the seedlings 40-50cm apart, but eventually thin to 80-100cm if all take. Less is always more when dealing with tomatoes - especially larger varieties - any closer will overcrowd and increase the potential for pest or disease problems.

Post-transplant mulch to a depth of 2-3cms with pea straw or lucerne hay keeping clear from the stems and allowing them to breatheand water daily for the first month. If growing in pots continue to do so for their lifespan, however for in-ground plants cut back to 3 good soakings per week, weather dependent.

One of the biggest problems with growing tomatoes is keeping their growth in check. If you loosen your grip they quickly grow out of control and are hard to reign in. Regular pruning of the vine and securing to the trellis is an essential weekly task. Keeping them in order will prepare them for an orderly and successful push at producing fruit.

After 2-3 months in the ground, you should begin to notice flowers that signal the start of the pineapple tomato. Being such a large fruit it is a slow burn process, but an intriguing one. As the fruit reaches full size the ribbed skin begins to richen in colour, and then soften - the prime indicator that its ready. When picking ripe fruit take care as the skin is thin and can easily haemorrhage. Using scissors or secateurs is advisable.

While it may feel like an eternity for the first fruit to ripen, the pineapple tomato is a late bloomer. Regular picking and general plant maintenance will see it throw up sweet tasting delights until very late in the warm season. To prevent the fruit from blistering under the hot summer sun, look to use shade clothing. You may also consider netting if you notice tomatoes falling foul to birds (annoying beak pierces) or rats/possums (more annoyingly gaping holes).

Because of its sweet taste and more than interesting citrus flavour, the pineapple tomato is best eaten fresh. Due to its size, it achieves the feat of filling an entire sandwich in one slice, or in salsa terms, a serving for 4 in a single fruit. While the taste of a homegrown tomato is truly one of the summers delights, that of a pineapple tomato is completely next level.

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