Sometimes something really special appears in store. Let me introduce you to Alf and Lee Sorbello’s magnificent heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are those that grow true from seed and can be passed from one generation to another. They are gold. Today most growers will choose hybrid varieties that give them the highest yield and can be tumbled into a box and transported vast distances. Taste, quality and beauty are secondary. Many varieties have entirely disappeared: a blow to our culinary heritage.
Alf and Lee have decades of tomato growing experience and what’s more, they are absolutely passionate about tomatoes! That’s why they grow dozens and dozens of varieties of tomatoes with poetic names like Black Krim, Green Zebra and Yellow Pear. You’re unlikely to find most of them anywhere else in Australia. In fact with their years spent collecting tomato varieties, you’d be hard-pressed to find their selection anywhere else in the world outside a tomato seed bank.
Now you know how much I bang on about seasonality. It’s important to understand what grows locally and when. A local diet means less energy spent on transport and fresher produce on your table. Seasonality can be affected by many things: weather, greenhouses, storage and even the expertise of the grower.
There’s no doubt tomatoes are a real taste of summer. Their delicious flavour was something you had to wait until the warmer months to enjoy. In the past you ate tomatoes through the colder months from cans: in rich pasta sauces and stews for example. So much so that many people don’t realize that tomatoes only appear in the Sydney region at Christmas when they’re grown outdoors.
Alf and Lee’s expertise allows them to grow their fruit all year round. Yes tomatoes are a fruit! Grown undercover just across Galston Gorge at Middle Dural, Alf and Lee represent a vital but disappearing part of Sydney’s food production heritage. They minimize or entirely avoid the cocktail of unwelcome chemicals many conventional growers use. Their investment in covers for their crop allows them to reliably turn out dozens of varieties right through the winter when other tomatoes are trucked in from far north Queensland, thousands of kilometres away.
The tomatoes Alf and Lee grow are magnificent. Full of flavour and beautiful to look at, don’t be caught out thinking that they all have to turn red. Some of them stay yellow, some black, some green even. When they give under slight pressure, they’re ready to enjoy. For a beautiful and special Sunday brunch, try slicing some perfectly ripe tomatoes of various colours on a platter, drizzle them with quality olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar and finish off with a generous grind of salt and pepper. And don’t forget to toast the growers for all their hard work!