Tomato. A garden cookbook classic, on sowing, growing and eating »

Everything you need to know about this much-loved fruit by Penny Woodward, Karen Sutherland and Janice Sutton

By Kerry Scambler
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<i>Tomato know, sow, grow, feast</i> by Penny Woodward, Janice Sutton, Karen Sutherland

Tomato know, sow, grow, feast by Penny Woodward, Janice Sutton, Karen Sutherland [©Penny Woodward]

 

The five things to love about this glorious encyclopaedia of all things ‘tomatoey’ could simply be in its title:  Tomato: know sow grow feast. From the humble fruit (that’s correct, it’s not a vegetable!) itself through all stages – from the sowing to the feasting, it can bring joy to your soul and to your tastebuds. 

In her introduction co-author Karen Sutherland says “The tomato is a juicy symbol of Australia’s multiculturalism”. They are now grown around the country in backyard raised beds, in hanging baskets on balconies and on small and large scale farms. 

It’s this growth in home-grown tomatoes (and veggies in general) that prompted the re-discovery of the heirloom varieties.

At the book’s launch, co-author Penny Woodward said that Tasmania is at the centre of everything heirloom, particularly tomatoes.  Perhaps that’s because we also have in our bloomin’ heart gardening guru Peter Cundall, and the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG), two catalysts for vegetable growing in Tasmania and beyond. 

Barely a Saturday morning went by when Peter wasn’t asked a tomato question on ABC radio, whether it was pre-season 'when to sow' (after Royal Hobart Show Day being the usual answer!), during the growing season 'what’s this pest?' or after the season 'how do I prepare the ground for next year?'

Peter was often followed on air by cookbook author Sally Wise, and during peak tomato season, the questions are about preserving and cooking the red (or green) harvest (glut for some!)  It was easy to see why this book is needed!

There’s much that could be praised in Tomato's 369 printed pages but here’s my humble view on the 5 things that make this a classic garden cookbook for decades to come:
 

1. The scope and range of content

You might think you’re only interested in the gardening tips or the recipes but trust me, there’s every chance you’ll soon be engrossed in the history of the tomato, how it’s changed our food culture, the huge boom in heirloom varieties and tomato growing stories (including from Montalto’s kitchen garden).

It’s a hefty book and its content is vast but it is also well balanced  and written in an easy-to-follow style. Whilst you do get the feeling that there was a lot more that could have been included, what is there in each section is relevant, useful and interesting.
 

2. The people in, around and behind the book

Royal Tasmania Botanic Gardens horticulturist Margot White has long worked on the heirloom tomatoes at the RTBG and also manages their huge annual tomato plant sale. This is a big fund-raiser for the Gardens and a much-anticipated chance for thousands of local gardeners to get the best of the heirloom seedlings. 

Margot asked Penny Woodward to write a tomato book for the Garden’s 200th birthday. Penny only accepted the when the writing load was shared between co-authors Karen Sutherland and Janice Sutton.

But they aren’t the only contributors to Tomato – there are the growers, chefs, cooks and gardeners professional and home-grown.

After seeing Tomato finally published, Penny Woodward said they realised that it was really produced by a community of people around Australia (and beyond), freely sharing their expertise and recipes that brought this glorious book together.
 

3. The amazing variety of heirloom tomatoes available

Heirloom basically means grown true from seeds and open pollinated. These varieties are important because they’ve developed over thousands of years, but sadly 90% of all heirloom vegetables have been lost.

The good news is that there is much being done to preserve what we have and hopefully re-discover some more.

The RTBG and other growers around the country have been busy as you can see through the the A-Z listing of heirloom tomatoes which is about 52 pages long – yes there are that many! From Ailsa Craig to Yellow Stuffer the names and colours are a feast of colour, words and humour. Think Kookaburra Cackle, Pale Perfect Purple and College Challenger with every colour of red, yellow, purple and green.
 

4. The photography

Nothing makes you want to grow or cook like a stunning image and Tomato is full of them.  Unlike many cookbooks, the photographs in this one are attributed to many but they are uniformly great shots. The layout is also a credit to Ian Wallace who managed to get so much information around the accompanying glorious images.
 

5. It’s the little things

Often with a book this size it’s common to skim through to where your interest main lies but I loved the little things picked up on the way through Tomato.  For example:

  • Try reconstituting sun-dried tomatoes in alcohol (eg whisky, gin, sherry, vodka, Pernod or port) to “add an interesting twist to a dish”. 
  • If you eat a lot of bananas, try making the banana skin tea as a tonic for your tomato plants. 
  • There’s a tomato called Pineapple.
  • When you find a tomato that sings in your mouth, save a seed in a serviette to take and try growing it.
     

The recipes

I stopped tagging the recipes to try when I realised it was most of them! Here's where I'll start when our hoped-for glut happens:

  • Heirloom Tomato + Basil Ice-cream with Balsamic Syrup from Ben Bate, Dunalley Waterfront Café, Tasman Peninsula.
  • Bill’s Classic Bloody Mary from Bill McHenry, McHenry Distillery, Tasman Peninsula Tasmania
  • Soft Tacos with Shredded Brisket from Rodney Dunn, Agrarian Kitchen, New Norfolk Tasmania
  • Green Tomato Chicken Curry  from Marie Viljoen, 66 Square Feet (Plus), New York
  • Bush Tomato Soup from Mark Olive’s Outback Café
     

The Verdict

There is so much more that could be written about this book but as Peter Cundall says succinctly in his foreword, this is the ultimate book on tomatoes.  So just buy it if you love anything about tomatoes.
 

Read more in the press release here »

 

Tomato: know, sow, grow, feast by Penny Woodward, Janice Sutton and Karen Sutherland is self published (Tas; Oct 2018; Hc;376pp; RRP A$60.00). It is available directly from the distributor, New South Books and good bookshops. It can also be purchased directly from the authors Penny Woodward , Janice Sutton or Karen Sutherland, and from the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, Hobart.

 

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February 25th, 2019
 
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