Can there be a gene linked to tomatoes? A human gene, that is. What else can explain the passion that runs through my family, from my father (who ate a mixture of scrambled eggs and tomatoes for breakfast every day) to me, always scouting for the sweetest and ripest, and my elder sister, who spends the summer cosseting her tomato garden – and, of course, makes papa’s dish every day? Gill, now ninety, has French doors from her kitchen, facing southwest, almost inaccessible through the gridlock of pots now toppling with their scarlet crop.
In the supermarkets it was a long struggle to find tomatoes worth the name. Trad mounted a campaign, maybe thirty years ago, complaining that the universal shiny red globes of nothing they then offered were a travesty of the noble fruit. Others must have agreed. Correspondence with press departments at Sainsburys and Tesco gradually saw a glimmer of interest. It must have been three or four years later a message came from a press officer, announcing that for the first time in history tomatoes had sold more than bananas – to the bafflement of the Board. Looking at the Trad index (you can look up any topic in it online (www.tradsdiary.com), I see I wrote about it in 2014 and 2011.
You must go to Italy, southern Italy, though, if you want to taste tomato in excelsis. Naples knows. Provence has good ones, and even the Isle of Wight is trying hard and doing well – in the proper season. September is the moment. There are many versions of the perfect tomato salad. Mine is made with beefsteak tomatoes, with slices two or three inches across, a few very thin slices of the mildest and sweetest white onions, a big pinch of salt and a great slosh of olive oil. Basil is a good substitute for the onion (which we rarely find sweet enough in England). No vinegar. Nothing more.