Wednesday, June 11, 2008


A brief digression from the history of this garden on the basis that re-living the hernias and broken back involved in restoring the thing has caused me to come over quite faint.

Pomodori, which is to say, tomatoes, are going to feature quite heavily here. Why? Because they're my vegetable preoccupation. Actually, fruit preoccupation, because, scientifically, a tom is a fruit. In the kitchen it's deemed a vegetable, scientifically it's a fruit. I'll go with the popular flow here and deem it a vegetable.

My particular preoccupation is with heirloom tomatoes. The beauty of heirlooms is that, unlike hybrids, which will normally produce tomatoes of the same size, shape, colour and taste year after year, because they've been bred to do so, growing heirlooms offers challenge.

They can be erratic in terms of production. They can throw up, to varying degrees, different shapes and sizes, and even shades of colour. Sometimes even different colours altogether. But more of that at some later date when I'm, once more, faint.

The tomato I always grow, the tomato to which I'm most attached, is this one:

Despite how it looks on your monitor, it's actually a very dark pink rather than red. And it has a history.

It's called Pink Gaetano because that's what I named it. It would, originally, have had a name, but that name is lost in the mists of Italian time.

I learned Italian in Australia. My Italian teacher's father emigrated to Australia from Calabria in the 1950s. He took the seeds for this tomato with him. He used to grow it in his backyard in Calabria and continued to grow it in his backyard in Melbourne, saving seeds, keeping the variety pure. When Antonella, my teacher, discovered I grew tomatoes, she asked her father for seeds and passed them onto me.

His name for them? Sangue. Italian for blood. He didn't know their varietal name. His name was Gaetano, so I named the variety after him. It's a lovely tomato with a rich, nicely complex flavour. The plant thrived in the heat and humidity of Sydney with, unlike a number of varieties, no problems setting fruit in extreme conditions. Hence it loves Italy.

Beyond the name, the tomato's actual origins are a genuine mystery. It's a dark pink beefsteak variety with some degree of ribbing. Extensive research revealed that there are no known dark pink Italian heirloom beefsteak tomatoes. Yet it was grown in a Calabrian backyard. It might be that the original seeds came from elsewhere in Europe. Eastern Europe, in particular, has produced any number of dark pink beefsteak varieties.

Regardless, fifty-odd years after Gaetano took the seeds to Australia, I brought them back to Italy.

Here's this season's plant in the garden after about six weeks in the ground:

Which reminds me: I'm getting low on seeds and I'll have to save some more this season.

Salute, Gaetano!


dinahmow said...

Ooh! Now I have "Gaetano Envy." I did try some of the heirlooms available (from Victoria), but they objected to tropical conditions so I'm staying with the mini toms for now.

You can probably understand my trying to order dishes "sensa pomadori" for my companion in Liguria!

Nice avatar!

The Gardener said...

They objected? You mean they didn't set fruit or fungal problems demolished them?

Under an Olive Tree said...

Nice tomato! How do you grow them from seed? In the States I grew tons of things, including heirloom tomatoes, because I had a grow-light stand, special soil, special seedling trays etc. Here I don't know how to begin! Do you start them in a protected area of the garden, or indoors? I'd love to start my own plants next year as the variety available here already started is small. I look forward to following your blog!

The Gardener said...

Hi, D. I've emailed you.

Sharon said...

That is an exceptionally gorgeous tomato!

bleeding espresso said... wouldn't consider guest posting with this story at Tomato Casual would you?

Chef Chuck said...

Lovely Tomato, I am sure it tasted good ! I have grown one that has similarities that came from the Florentine area. Enjoy Chuck

The Gardener said...

Chuck, the best known tomato associated with Firenze is probably Costoluto Fiorentino. Would that be it?