"It's not a matter of life or death - it's far more important than that"*. And the tomato is far more important than just a vegetable (or a fruit). It is a cultural icon, a good vs evil masterpiece and the pin up (vegetable or fruit) for the home growing revolution.
There has never been a greater fall from grace (forget the Roman Empire, forget Brittany Spears). Once widely recognised as an aphrodisiac, the modern tomato often goes unnoticed in a salad or a sandwich. It has become the wedge or slice of hydration, more an ingredient that adds moisture to a meal than a flavour in itself. Once typified by atypical size, colour, shape and taste, this fading legend is now as uniform and in sync as a military dictatorship.
But the tomato is making a comeback and it gathers momentum now. It is the one variety that gets people out of bed each spring (and maybe back in bed circa summer...hubba, hubba). It seems to stir something inside - helping to raise our joint middle finger to the mass produced, homogenised food industry that has stolen it from us. We now have the responsibility of putting the colour back into the tomato, and back into food in general, and we're doing it at our ground zero - the veggie patch.
With more than 3000 varieties in its extended family it is hard to know where to begin. Cherries, beefsteaks, hybrids, the ones smuggled in from Italy by your friend's cousin's grandfather? This is not a time for indecisiveness. It is clarity and focus that are needed. So let us provide it for you with our Top 10 Best Tomato Varieties (in no particular order...because it'd be like naming your favourite child)
Tommy Toe (cherry)
Prolific, consistent and proven (again and again and again), there is no surer thing in the tomato kingdom than a glut of Tommy Toe tomatoes come summer time. A large staking plant that will grow upwards of 1.5-2.0m, it is a rigorous grower that rewards you with plenty of juicy, sweet, mid-sized cherry tomatoes. Largely exempt from pest & disease, the Tommy Toe is a must have in any warm season veggie patch.
Black Cherry (cherry)
This is Tommy Toe's better looking and more interesting best friend. Attracts all the attention and rightly so. Dark skinned, with a deep, dark sweet flesh that highlights all that is good about the vegetable (fruit) formerly know as the tomato. Not as rigorous a grower as the Tommy Toe, nor as prolific, but a reason to get out in the garden and gauge the reaction of your best friend as they consume their first Black Cherry. It never disappoints.
Black Russian (mid)
A Black Cherry, but scaled up in size. The Black Russian was one of the reasons we got into growing food, with its smooth dark skin revealing a sweet, pulpy, dark plum like flesh. A mid size, staking variety, the bush is relatively neat and therefore easier to maintain than more rigorous growers. Best to net fruit as they are a favoured snack to any number of birds, rats and night time garden thieves.
Black Krim (full)
Heralding from Crimea, in Ukraine, the Black Krim is a scaled up Black Russian. What it picks up in size it loses in sweetness, however this is not to the detriment of the fruit that is still packed full of flavour, albeit slightly salty - the perfect taste profile to compliment any tomato in our opinions!
Green Zebra (mid)
A green, mid/small sized fruit that has darker green, speckled stripes running through it. As the fruit matures the green of the skin shifts to a yellow, indicating ripeness. Created by tomato guru, Tom Wagner, the colour is believed to throw off pests and would be tomato thieves (but we can see them....). A zingy flavour.
Chocolate Stripes (full)
One for the catwalk, the Chocolate Stripes is another dark fleshed tomato that when ripe has a deep red skin, with speckled stripes of green. It is a large growing, staking variety whose fruit is often the first ripen of the full sized sized tomatoes but will also produce late into the season. It has a full, sweet taste, with slightly smokey undertones.
Mortgage Lifter (full)
A fascinating story and incredible tomato. It is said that sales of 'Radiator Charlie's' Mortgage Lifter tomato helped him pay off his $6000 mortgage in six years; back in the 1940's when $6000 was a lot of money and things were also pretty bleak. He managed it because the tomato he bred was large, meaty, flavoursome, prolific and disease resistant. These are all reasons why the tomato is still so popular today. That, and the size of our mortgages.
San Marzano (mid)
San Marzano has the reputation as the ultimate pizza and pasta tomato. So much so that every self respecting Italian has them growing in the spring/summer garden. The reputation however is largely derived from the soils they grow in, that traditionally being the fertile, volcanic soil surrounding Mt Vesuvius in Italy. While there's some things we can't replicate, plants have evolved well to Australian conditions and produce a delicious, full flavoured fruit.
Aunt Ruby German's Green (full)
The German's have helped develop more excellent tasting heirloom tomato varieties than most, so it would be a hollow list if it didn't include one close their hearts. This large beefsteak variety grows up to 1/2kg a fruit and has a green/yellowy skin once ripe. Its flesh has a sweet, zesty and almost fruity flavour
Cousin to the Green Zebra - similar size, flavour, stripes and growing habits - except rather than green/yellowy skin to indicate ripeness, it is red. So what it lacks in stealth it makes up for in yield, producing up to 20kg of produce per plant (assuming they're netted from the birds, rats and tomato thieves).
* Quote from Bill Shankly when asked about the importance of football, not the tomato.