Tomato – Kalavrita
I found this variety in Kalavrita – a small mountain town in Northern Peloponnese in Greece. It’s a large uneven shaped tomato with a soft skin and most delicious flavour. Even the growers didn’t have the name of this variety as it was passed down from generation to generation. It was grown in a large field high up in the mountains as a semi-determinate plant growing to about 4 feet tall and trained with 3 to 4 shoots per plant against a fence and wire system.
February to March.
Sow 5 seeds into a small pot (7cm) and keep in a warm place. Pot on into individual 7cm pots when ready. Plant into greenhouse or polytunnel.
Between rows: 50cm
Between plants in the row: 50cm
Approx. seed count: 8
Disappointing Greek tomatoes
As a matter of fact, one vegetable that disappointed me in Greece was the tomato. Most of the time they tasted average and even our own sun-starved Irish tomatoes would beat them for flavour. This wasn’t always the case. I remember having been in Greece many years ago and tomatoes were certainly the highlight for me especially in a Greek Salad. Now only the divine Greek Feta cheese rescues the salad.
So is it always true that tomato flavour improves with the sun? I might disagree. A Sungold F1 or Iris tomato grown in Co. Donegal definitely tastes better and has a thinner skin than one of the modern Greek varieties. So the choice of variety possibly plays a more important role.
Aegean Seed Bank
I came across the equivalent of the Irish Seed Savers Association in Greece – the Archipelago Aegean Seed Bank. There appears to be a massive decline in vegetable and cereal varieties in Greece. Alarm bells should ring. They reckon that only 2-3% of vegetable varieties which existed in Greece 50 years ago, are still being cultivated today.
The number of wheat species cultivated in Greece has decreased from 200 to only 20 varieties. Greece had an abundance of vegetable varieties due to the geographical isolation of the Greek islands many local and distinct varieties were developed over the last few centuries.
I spoke with a greengrocer in the local town and he agreed. Up to 20 years ago the tomatoes that came into the shop needed to be sold on the same day otherwise they would bruise. They were so soft skinned and full of flavour that they would melt in your mouth rather than having the typical bland crunch of a modern hard-skinned variety that can tolerate any physical abuse. He reckoned that there are now only about 4 to 6 varieties in shops and they are all modern and bland.
Greek Heritage Tomatoes
So what happened to the real Greek tomatoes? I went to the large Nafplion Farmer’s Market. Nafplion is a stunningly beautiful town in the Peloponnese. At the market there were hundreds of tomato stalls and I tried to find one which sells the old delicious mountain tomatoes. I asked my son Thien to keep a look out for tomatoes that were uglier than the others. Luckily I found a stallholder who spoke good English. She said there is one stall which still has heritage tomatoes and brought me there. Luckily she knew the variety name. Like any good gardener – I bought a few kilos, saved the seeds and used the rest in a salad and in a tomato soup.
Of course these were the tomatoes I remembered from Greece many years ago. The flesh melts in your mouth and you hardly notice that there is a skin on it. They were also grown outdoors higher up in the surrounding mountains unlike their modern cousins that are grown in air-conditioned polytunnels.