Despite having visited the Isle of Wight for years, it was only after my latest trip to London’s Borough Market that I learnt that this small southern island provides the perfect climate for growing tomatoes.
Founded in 2007, The Tomato Stall was set up to showcase the Arreton Valley growers’ award-winning range of organic and specialist tomatoes and tomato-based products. Up to 200 varieties of tomato are grown and trialled by them each year, using an entirely biodegradable and sustainable growing system, environmental pest-control (a team of native bumble bees, naturally), with every tomato left to ripen on the vine and picked by hand at their peak of flavour.
It certainly makes for a pretty extraordinary tomato, and demonstrates just how rich and fertile the Isle of Wight is with its milder maritime climate and high levels of sunlight. Their ethos? ‘Flavour is foremost’. And flavour really does burst out of each and every one of their fruits. In fact, it wasn’t until I ripped open my first box of Tomato Stall Classic Vine cherry tomatoes that I ever knew tomatoes could have such a strong smell. Because these really are tomatoes like you’ve never had them before. Sweet, plump and almost meaty in texture, their raw state is so good it took me three days to even bring myself to cook with one.
Coming from me this is high praise indeed. I tend to view tomatoes as simply a means to an end, whether it be a pasta sauce, soup, salsa or mixed salad. Never had I felt the urge to pop a cherry tomato in my mouth, and until I discovered The Tomato Stall had I ever struggled to resist eating a whole box of tomatoes raw.
But do resist, as whether grilled, roasted, pan-fried or raw, these aren’t just tomatoes to savour but make the star of the show. Their range of speciality, lesser known varieties are particularly impressive. From the Golden Mini Plum and distinctive Marmonde to the spicy Kumato and gold-and-green-striped Red Tiger, tomatoes like these deserve some attention and the Oak Roasted Tomatoes, drenched in a garlic infused sunflower oil, prove just how potent a well-prepared tomato can be.
Tomatoes are often hailed as a superfood and the medicinal properties of lycopene, an antioxidant that gives tomatoes their red colour, is found in higher concentrations in products such as tomato juice, ketchup and passata than in fresh tomatoes. Thankfully, The Tomato Stall’s own range of ketchup, passata, chutney, relishes and jams means you can keep your stock of their award-winning tomatoes well away from a blender. I sampled the Chilli Jam and, while admittedly not the healthiest option, found it pleasingly sweet and sticky, with a mild chilli touch to liven up cold meats, cheese and sandwich fillings. For a proper nutritional boost, The Tomato Stall’s two varieties of 100% pure tomato juice are as good as it gets. Containing no added sugar or salt, they’re exactly as nature intended with a smoothie-like richness and savoury tang – the golden colouring of the Sunshine Tomato making a perfect alternative to your typical morning orange juice.
This summer The Tomato Stall also launched a new Tomato and Cucumber Cordial. Combining sweet tomato essence with refreshing cucumber, this is an unexpectedly brilliant and cleverly balanced arrangement of sweet and delicate flavours, capturing all the smells and tastes of summer (it also pairs particularly well with gin!)
It’s always great to see such an ethical, sustainable and local business do so well, and personally I’m delighted to have re-discovered a fruit I had always previously disregarded. Reviewing The Tomato Stall has not only been a pleasure but a privilege, and I look forward to both watching their success grow and my next delivery.