The time is ripe for tomatoes

In dark days for growers, Emma Townshend finds the season's saviour
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The Independent Online

At a drizzly August bank-holiday barbecue I notice a particularly fancy tomato salad on the table. I sidle up to it, cutlery in hand. Enough different colours to start a rainbow, drenched in a tasty dressing. I put my fork in and eat really quite a lot more than my fair share, before trawling the garden to find the maker. She turns out to be an old polytunnel-owning friend (ah, the polytunnel, marking the men from the boys in tomato-growing) who has grown 16 different tomatoes this year, all of which have gone in the salad. Yep, 16. So, of course, I quiz her about which she thinks are the best: "For the big fat ones, Marmande, but for taste, it's Sungold."

You will hear the praises of "Sungold" sung again and again among veg growers. Thompson & Morgan, celebrating having sold "Sungold" seeds for 20 years come 2012, recently announced it had been voted the "sweetest tomato ever" by gardeners. When you spot one of the little orangey-yellow fruits and instead of putting it in the colander, um, accidentally eat it, you'll find it difficult to disagree. "Sungold" really is deliciously sweet, and reliable, and a lovely colour (which helps in making a tomato salad, certainly).

The compliments "Sungold" receives are uniform, unlike the comments earned by British standard-issue tomato "Gardeners' Delight", which seems to bring people out in a hot sweat of controversy over whether it's a fabulous garden mainstay or just total rubbish. Plus, in this wet and wild year for veg growing, it is small enough to have actually ripened even in those gardens which lack a polytunnel. Yes, in this, our darkest tomato hour, "Sungold" really is the Spitfire of tomatoes. Its only downside is price: around £2.99 for 10 seeds.

Another very pretty, unconventional-coloured tomato highly rated by growers is "Black Cherry" (25 seeds for £2.29 from thompson-morgan.com). These come out dark burgundy, almost the colour of grapes, with a particularly sweet and juicy flavour. If, when reading about this year's crop, you become keen to make a tomato debut next summer, give these two cherry tomatoes a try. They're often best for beginner growers because of the early ripening mentioned above, but also because they tend to survive incompetent pinching out.

Finally, what about that undeniably red but still super-tasty "Marmande", mentioned earlier? One of the biggest tomatoes for garden growing, this is a typical Provençal market fruit which comes in fabulous wonky shapes. Thompson & Morgan does an improved variety, "Super Marmande" (100 seeds for £1.99). Just make sure to start growing nice and early next spring.

A brief Facebook survey and chat with neighbours suggests that even down south many larger varieties of tomato have remained resolutely green. At this rate, my lovely shaped, perfectly formed "San Marzano" plums are going straight into chutney. Boo.

Rainbow tomato nation

1.'Black Krim'
So-called because it came originally from the Crimea: absolutely massive fruit, as befitting a grand pre-revolutionary tomato. Its dramatic colour looks sensational sliced. £2.25 for 15 seeds, victoriananursery.co.uk

2. 'Cherokee Purple'
Old-fashioned flavour and a gently eccentric shape, in a properly purplish tomato. £1.60 for 30 seeds, nickys-nursery.co.uk

3. 'Lemon Tree'
Gorgeous little lemon-shaped and sharp-tasting fruits which will add a lovely unexpected splash of colour to your salads. £1.35 for 20 seeds, nickys-nursery.co.uk

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