The opening of the tomato season is not quite the red letter day it used to be. The first bite of the first Gardeners’ Delight, the little scarlet globe exploding on your palate in a rush of sweetness and greenness, was a moment as important as the first asparagus, broad beans, sweet corn ……. No, more important – it ushered in a long late-summer season of perfumed salads and stews, tomato sharpness with bacon and eggs, the red tomato signature everywhere.
That was before the supermarkets woke up to the variety of tomatoes. There used to be one on their shelves. It was red, round,watery and tasteless. It still has a public – and still appears at breakfast in Greasy Spoons. I started writing about its inadequacies 25 years ago or so, and pestering the press departments of Tesco and Sainsburys. I remember the hallelujah day when one of them called me to say that their purchasing board was in shock. Tomatoes had overtaken bananas in turnover.
In the past three years new varieties have been pouring in, even from growers in England. We started seeing good ripe tomatoes, in pretty funny shapes, some of them, as early as February. It is a wholly benign development; who could not be thrilled?
And my tomato plants? As iffy as ever. But I still nip down to the greenhouse for a surreptitious Gardeners’ Delight.