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Discover great tasting Isle of Wight Tomatoes

No more tasteless tomatoes

I have never paid much attention to tomatoes and all I really knew was that I liked Italian plum tomatoes for my pasta sauces, fresh San Marzano when I can find them in local Italian delis, cherry tomatoes on the vine and plain old no name varieties in the big buckets in supermarkets. I have never had the luxury of buying my tomatoes by the name, instead I have been buying by the colour and type. 

All that has changed after my recent visit to the glasshouses that grow an amazing variety of fantastic tasting British Tomatoes on the Isle of Wight where I tasted some very juicy, flavourful, ripe tomatoes. My tomato tastebuds have been awakened. Gosh, we have been duped for such a long time, being offered only those tasteless generic, unnaturally uniform and tasteless water filled red fruits anymore.

Arriving on the Isle of Wight via the ferry/train combo, I am met by Paul Thomas and Joni at the station. A short drive through to the heart of the diamond shaped island is a lush green fertile valley which is the home of Wight Salad’s 26 hectares of greenhouses, where the  Isle of Wight tomatoes are grown. 

Isle of Wight tomatoes greenshouses
We meet up with Ross Hammond, Site Ops Manager to take us on a tour of the facilities. At the first greenhouse, we don white jumpsuits, shoe coverings and gloves, careful to not bring in any microorganisms that could taint the health of the plants. All the greenhouses are its own ecosystem and we had to be careful not to transfer any pesky bugs from one to another.

The humidity and heat hits you as you walk through the doors, then your green smell that get when you have a hot box full of green plants and ripe fruits. There are rows upon rows of very tall tomato plants, well over 10 feet tall in some circumstances, trailing like triffids up support poles. The vines can grow up to 40 feet in length it seems.

Each plant is heavily laden with fruit of varying degree of ripeness. Men on tall machinery are working by hand, picking ripe fruit for the market, tying up the growing stalks, cutting back sections, pruning by hand or sometimes even hand pollinating the plants.

Isle of Wight tomatoes Greenhouses

The tomatoes are picked daily when they reach the desired amount of ripeness that is judged by its colour of 5 as per the chart. Here they like to pick their fruits at their ripest to ensure that optimum flavour. The Isle of Wight tomatoes get their great taste from the amount of sunshine they receive and benefit from being picked only when ripe.

the tomato stall (46)

Freshly picked Isle of Wight tomatoes

Freshly picked Isle of Wight tomatoes on the vine

As we traverse the rows of tomato plants, I spot many different varieties, distinct by their different colours, shapes and sizes. There are little yellow ones, stripey brown ones, big green ones, red plum shaped ones and more. Plucking the ripe fruits straight off the vine to taste leaves a lasting impression, each variety I tried had a completely different flavour. The juicy fruits were sweet and fragrant and some were more tart but each one was quite different and definitely did not taste anything like the tasteless varieties that I have been buying from supermarkets. Joni tells me that some of the staff here like to snack on bowls of ripe cherry tomatoes instead of  sweets and I would too if they tasted like these ones.

The tomato plants are grown in coconut husk and watered with nutrient enriched water. The air in the greenhouses are controlled for both temperature and composition and Co2 is pumped in where required. Bright yellow and white boxes nestled between the rows houses bumblebees who naturally pollinate the plants. They even use predator insects to keep other harmful bugs at bay.

The bumblebee pollinators

The bumblebee pollinators

Organic Isle of Wight Tomatoes

About 10 hectares of greenhouses grow organic tomatoes. The difference is the soil in which the tomatoes are grown in, which is made of compost from the plant waste and from all the other material that supports the growing like the string to tie up the plants to the support sticks. In the darker months, the greenhouses use artificial lights to prolong the growing period. Typically the yield for organic tomatoes is about 15% less than the conventional crop.

the tomato stall (22) the tomato stall (23)
Growing Tomatoes on the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight, besides being England’s largest island, is also one of the sunniest place in England which makes it an ideal place to grow tomatoes. The Wight Salad group started as a cooperative for local growers and started by selling their produce in some of London’s farmers markets. They found a loyal following and high demand which has led to today’s successful operations. They now supply over 50% of the British tomatoes in the country. They sell to supermarkets across the country and also directly to the public at farmers’ markets across the South (which is how their business started) and also through their website.

On the Isle of Wight, with the help of  heating in the greenhouses, they can grow tomatoes from March until November. The greenhouses are kept at an even temperature throughout the year and the humidity is controlled too. Irrigation of the greenhouse is supplied by harvesting rain water and run off.

They grow over 200 varieties of tomatoes here and about 40 of these are sold regularly in shops. With their special access to tomato seed producers around the world, they are often asked to trial older lost varieties of Heirloom tomatoes and they probably have the largest repository of tomato seeds in the world.

You can see some of the varieties that they grow here http://www.thetomatostall.co.uk/our-tomatoes/.  Some of the varieties are baby plum, piccolo (cherry tomato on the vine), coeur de boeuf, Angelle, Sun Choco, Jack Hawkins an old English Heirloom and even San Marzano, the celebrated Italian plum tomatoes.

The last greenhouse we visit is the one that gets the most sunshine. This one houses the varieties that they are trialling for tomato seed producers and also to experiment with other crops. At the back of this greenhouse are rows of chilli plants, this year experimental crop. Don’t be surprised to see this being added to their list of products later.

the tomato stall Isle of Wight tomatoes Isle of Wight Tomatoes - Heirloom tomatoes the tomato stall Many unusual varieties of tomatoes Isle of Wight Tomatoes
Other Tomato Products from The Tomato Stall

The Tomato Stall Products
Of course with all food producers, the fatter margins are with the added value products. Here, a lot of their nutrient and lycopene rich produce is used to make a variety of tomato based products under the The Tomato Stall brand. They make a variety of products like their distinctive bright yellow Sunshine Juice made with just tomatoes, which is now widely used to make Sunshine Mary’s, the golden version of a Bloody Mary.

The Tomato Stall's Sunshine Juice

The Tomato Stall’s Sunshine Juice 100% tomatoes, no additives

Their compact production facility also produces Chilli Jams, Chutneys, Oak Roasted tomatoes and Oak Roasted tomato infused balsamic. I’ve used the chilli jam in making cheese toasties, a generous smear really transforms this into a moreish. The Great Taste Award winning oak roasted tomatoes are terrific used in pasta sauces and chopped and added into a posh Mac and Cheese ( something I learnt from Tom Aikens recently).

the tomato stall - Isle of Wight tomatoes
Roasting  tomatoes for their award winning Oak Roasted Tomatoes takes over 10 hours of roasting ripe tomatoes in this oven, after cutting it by hand and manually turned. This is then smoked for about 4 hours. All highly labour intensive but the resulting flavour I can attest is sweet and flavourful.

If you have never tasted Isle of Wight tomatoes before, pop down to a local farmers market or order from them directly online. The people in the know order their tomatoes by name. You could also try one of their Specialty boxes which has a mixed variety of tomatoes that sometimes include some of the other less common varieties that they grow. Make sure you add some of their Roasted Tomatoes to that order too.

You can buy these amazing tomatoes and the other products from their site www.thetomatostall.co.uk , in Waitrose or Sainsburys with the packs labelled Isle of Wight Tomatoes. They can be found at Borough Market or at selected farmer’s markets around London like Pimlico, Swiss Cottage, Barnes and on the Isle of Wight itself, you can buy their tomatoes at Farmer Jacks.   

EatCookExplore was a guest of The Tomato Stall and Isle of Wight Tomatoes

Taste Emporium with Santa Maria

Did you know that they have Taco Fridays in Sweden? Who knew that Mexican food featured so prominently in Swedish food culture.

I learnt this fact at the recent Taste Emporium hosted by Santa Maria, the Swedish owned food brand. The Taste Emporium was an interactive showcase of some of their new products.

They took over Discovery foods a few years ago and are now rebranding in the UK.  Santa Maria are introducing some new Mexican products into UK supermarkets like whole dried Ancho Chillies and dried Chipotle (currently available in Tescos). This is quite interesting as it was really difficult to find in London, unless you go to Borough Market.

They also have a range of other chillies and spices in jars and bottles, from ready made sauces to spice jars with inbuilt grinders. I especially like Spice Explosion which is a mix of chillies and other seasonings.

Am looking forward to the launch of their Umami spice in the summer.

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Indulging in Jude’s Ice Cream

In a market where there is so much competition, it is nice to see an artisanal family business thriving. The Ice Cream market might seem saturated but here is one that is growing, Jude’s Ice Cream.

Jude’s Ice Cream was started in a farm in Hampshire, using a domestic ice cream machine. The company started by Theo Mezger, an ex banker about 11 years ago in their farm near Winchester. Jude’s Ice Cream business has grown from supplying his local pub and now can be found in Waitrose.

They source all their ingredients locally, use only natural ingredients and the flavours of their ice cream changes with the seasons. The lovely Laura from Jude’s delivered a batch of these by bike. Among the flavours were:

Salted Caramel – perfection

Strawberry  Tease – very fruity

Double Chocolate – rich and the ultimate indulgence

Mint Chocolate Chip – a perennial favourite

Spiced ginger – a bit too gingery for me and this only seasonal.

Mango Crush – great flavour of mango

Jude's Ice Cream

The ice cream was not overly sweet and very creamy. Can’t wait to see what other flavours they come up with.  I believe they have about 20 flavours in production at the moment. Find Jude’s them in Waitrose.

The Fabulous Baker Brothers at Harrods

Real bread is a great trend that is catching on in a big way now. TV programmes like The Fabulous Baker Brothers and the Great British Bakeoff have really fuelled the interest in real baking in this country.

Tom and Henry Herbert have done their bit in promoting this trend. When their show aired, the twittersphere erupted. Mostly with admiration of new found fans.

The Fabulous Baker Brothers at Harrods

Tom and Henry Herbert

Today, they launched their bread in Harrods Food Halls. I met the 2 boys briefly for a chat while they were busy signing their new book, The Fabulous Baker Brothers.

The Fabulous Baker Boys

They are introducing their artisanal bread exclusively to Harrods with 13 different flavours. All the bread is supplied from their family bakery in the Cotswold where they bake up to 50,000 loaves a week. Deliveries to London will be made weekly.

I was curious as to how they can supply fresh bread to London as real bread doesn’t keep as long as the plastic bread. All the bread will be fully baked and then blast frozen before delivery and this is then baked in store for 5 mins to warm them up.

Henry Herbert The Fabulous Baker Brothers

Of the flavours on offer, my favourite was the Fig and walnut loaf. There is also a 100% spelt sourdough loaf and their uncle’s black and green olive loaf baked in a pot, which uses an Italian dough base.

They are about to start a baking and butchery school and you can get more details here http://hobbshousebakery.co.uk/

Hobbs House Bakery
Hatters Lane, Chipping Sodbury,
Bristol BS37 6AA

01454 321 629

Hobbs House Bakery At Harrods