• Honestly, growing is easier than you novices imagine. (Benito Martin)
Growing your own is cheaper and less irritating than a market full of people banging on about tomatoes being better in the old days, says Helen Razer, in her new frugal foodie Friday column, Cheap Tart.
Helen Razer

29 Sep 2017 - 12:05 PM  UPDATED 29 Sep 2017 - 12:46 PM

There are two types who commonly grumble, “things were better in the old days”. The first are political conservatives. The second we may find at produce markets, seeking flavours of nostalgia from all those rustic crates.

I’ve kvetched at the venison stand that everything was once more delicious. But, really, was it? Perhaps if I were eighty, or raised on a biodynamic farm, my palate would have memory of natural taste. Even those, like me, with parents whose backyards contained little but edible plants ate the food of agribusiness, at some of our meals.

There’s no taste remembered more falsely than the tomato’s. Someone is always banging on about remembrance of bright, uncompromised sweetness. Some folks, particularly those with Mediterranean gardening heritage, can claim to have known the planet’s best fruit. But, they too knew winters where the only “fresh” tomato around had the rind of a cricket ball, and its approximate flavour.

There’s no taste remembered more falsely than the tomato’s.

We’ve been stuck with this leather for decades. Few of us were blessed. My pal Jane, whose Nonna learned tomato art in a small Italian town, never took her Calabrian luck for granted. She knew the day would come when Nonna Rosa, now 93, would quit turning out the finest passata and fruit. It did. Jane, fortunate for so long, joined the rest of us: a people doomed to work and so rarely be rewarded with sweetness.

Rosso Grosso. Marmandes. Smoky, dark Crimeans. These heirlooms are too old for most to remember. But new interest in these old guys can grow flavour impossible to forget.

Honestly, growing is easier than you novices imagine. It’s cheaper and less irritating than a market full of people like me boasting about their false tomato memories.

To grow from seed is ideal, due to the variety of old obscurities rarely available in plant form. But, we’ve have missed our chance at that this Australian season. Grab a seedling now. Yes, now. You can visit a nursery or order from an heirloom provider like The Digger’s Club.

Growing is ... cheaper and less irritating than a market full of people like me boasting about their false tomato memories.

If you’ve no outdoor space, I send regret. It’s tricky to grow indoors. But, tomatoes grow well in containers, and very well if your small yard or balcony is north-facing. So long as your pot is big enough (minimum 45 centimetres across) and filled with good mix please, don’t use soil in a container - you’re able to raise the plant in a controlled way a bed-grower like me cannot. Wherever you grow, make it sunny and choose at least one small or cherry-type. (I recommend Tommy Toe.) The fruit, being wee, takes less time to mature, so we get to feel smug about our salad sooner.

If you’ve got beds, as I do, go crazy. Plant fifteen if you can. Try not to cry when a possum eats them, and remember that plants, of all things, are not about looking to the past.

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Pot people should support their babies with a stake. This is straightforward: find a stick, whack it in before planting and tie your growing guy, which should be of a smaller variety, to the stick with something stretchy, like bits of old t-shirt. Bed bods: the matter of stakes is contested. Some horticulturists now insist a tomato lives life better naked. Some horticulturists think these horticulturists are mad.

I may be considered mad, as I smell strongly of pelletised chook poo - sometimes sold as the brand “Dynamic Lifter”. But, again, there’s conflict about fertilsier. Ignore that in your first season. Grab something that has the word “tomato” on the label, chuck some in once when your plant’s a baby. When it starts fruiting, feed it like a teenage boy. Water it at the roots. Don’t drown it. If it’s got spots, you’ve probably over-watered. If its leaves look like oven-crisp kale, even in the morning, well, give it a drink.

Even a disastrous first season will provide you with one punnet of memory true and sweet enough to turn you into a grower.


Helen Razer is your frugal food enthusiast, guiding you to the good eats, minus the pretension and price tag in her weekly Friday column, Cheap Tart. Don't miss her next instalment, follow her on Twitter @HelenRazer.


In hopes that your Tommy Toe plant is prolific, we share this tip and recipes with you:


Smug tomato recipes
Cherry tomato, watermelon and black olive salad

This salad appeared on the menu at Berta one summer and quickly became a firm favourite spawning many variations – I’m sure its popularity was in part due to the watermelon being prepared with a melon baller.

Tomato and chipotle bathed corn chips with fried eggs (chilaquiles rojos)

A classic breakfast in Mexico that uses yesterday's stale tortillas to great effect. The smoky flavour of chipotle chilli works wonderfully with eggs and takes a simple breakfast dish to a new level. To save time, make the tomato sauce ahead of time and reheat before serving.

Chilli and black bean blue swimmer crabs

Serve this finger licking crab with some rice or warm roti to soak up the delicious sauce. This recipe uses our very own delicious chilli jam but if time doesn’t allow use a good quality one from an Asian grocer. Remember to have a crab picker on hand to crack open the crab and remove every last morsel of crabmeat.

Tomato and sage tart

Cooking for vegetarian friends? Why not whip up this bright and beautiful tomato tart. It's a simple recipe that's quick to prepare, and won't have the carnivores at your table complaining.