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The world's tiniest tomato has got to be Alberto's Shattering
Currant! It's the size of a garden pea. The species is
often considered different than the conventional garden tomato,
Lycopersicon esculentum which means "savory wolf peach", but they
easily cross with one another and are functionally, variations of the
Alberto Vasquez whose name I gave to the shattering currant, was
an early member of the Seed Savers Exchange formed by Kent Whealy in
the 1970's. In the annual yearbook, Alberto wrote that he was
looking for seeds of Rat-Tail Radish. Well, I was just back from the
NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmering Association) Summer Conference where
there was a guy selling seed of the Rat-Tail Radish out of a
sack. I think he got the seeds from India. I bought a couple of
of seed. This must have been around 1980. I grew the seeds in the
greenhouse at the college where I worked. The seed pods were truly like
a rat's tail (unlike some rat-tails sold today), over a foot long,
pencil thin and mostly deep purple in color. Very impressive. But
that's another rambling. Alberto from Virginia (if my memory serves me)
trade me seeds of his currant tomato for rat-tail seeds. Done.
Alberto had two types of currant tomatoes, one that shattered it's
fruit (drops to the ground when ripe) and another that holds the fruit.
He sent me the seed of both and I grew large seed crops. I sold both
types for many years and companies who got the seed from me also sold
the two kinds for a while. I've noted though that the one that drops
it's fruit isn't in commerce anymore.
Why, people ask me, would you want a currant tomato that drops it's
fruit? Why indeed! The labor involved with picking currant tomatoes for
market is considerable. We developed a technique though, of planting
the shattering currant tomatoes on mounds with landscape cloth sloping
downward from the base of the plants. Shake the bushes every couple of
days and scoop up the tomatoes that roll down to the base of the cloth.
While the currant tomato is a crunchy sack of seed offering a nice
texture to salads, flavor is not where they excel. In fact,
before the currant tomato was reintroduced into commerce as an heirloom
variety (after an absence of maybe 75 years or so), it was most often
grown by 19th century gardeners and used to make a fruit jam.
This is one of the true currant
tomatoes, the world's smallest tomato. Pea sized. More primitive than
others, it's fruit shatters and falls to the ground when ripe or near
ripe. Crunchy in salads imparts a great texture but not sweet or
flavorful. We are developing harvest techniques that take advantage of
the shattering characteristic since currant tomatoes are tedious to
Currant Tomato Crosses
The currant crosses is a group of small cherry tomatoes with currant
tomatoes in their parentage. A diverse group indeed, they can be
found in many colors and tend to be the tomatoes that excite my
palate. Grow currants next to a modern high brix cherry tomato
and then save the seeds and savor. Currant tomatoes have an
emergent stigma that will collect any available pollen an insect
happens to bring, very much like the heirloom potato-leaf tomatoes that
have the same tendency to outcross.
In fact, many cherry tomatoes obtain their long truss charactoristics
from L. pimpinellifolium. These trusses can be a foot long and
contain dozens of tiny tomatoes. The true currant tomato comes
from the coastal region from Equador into Peru and has some inherent
variation. The currants that I've grown are generally rampant
sprawlers with wirey vines that take off when the weather becomes
hottest. Currant crosses can have the same kinds of
characteristics or not. Many of the crosses we develop here at
FBF are unintentional. The currants and currant crosses reseed
(zone 7) and we let many grow to sample and simply select our favorites.
Red and Yellow Currant Crosses are common and many have been selected,
named and in commerce because of their nice flavor and texture.
I read somewhere that grape tomatoes are the newest development in
tomatoes! When I was growing up, we called these plum tomatoes,
not like the canning plum tomatoes, but miniature plum tomatoes.
Because they are produced in abundance, they were used to make sauce
just like their larger cousins. Not particularly sweet but rich
in tomato flavor.
There was a red plum and a yellow plum available in seed catalogs from
the 1800's and then Charlie Rick ( a renown tomato breeder at the
University of California -Davis until his death a few years ago) sent
me a Pink Plum, which he said was one of his favorite
tomatoes. Dr. Rick was a plant explorer, and the authority
on tomato genetics. He traveled throughout South America, Central
America, Mexico, the Galapagos and the Caribbean looking for new tomato
species and variants. Through his work, and the wild tomato genes he
introduced into traditional canning tomato varieties, the California
processed tomato industry was born and thrived. One day David
Cavannaugh from the Seed Savers Exchange showed him a tomato they grew
at Heritage Farm from some seed we were selling at the time , a bizarre
green fruited variety that split open like a fuzzy capsule when it
ripened (which I obtained in a batch of seed from New Zealand several
years earlier). He sent me a nice note and we began to
correspond with one another.
Pink Plum was a little rose beauty from Cuba that he said he used to
make a nice sweet tomato sauce.
I noticed that, much like current tomatoes, these little plum tomatoes
produced more variation after being grown alongside of cherry tomatoes
and current tomatoes. They cross easily. Sweetie, Sweet 100 and
Gardeners Delight were very similar cherry tomatoes that were available
through by seed retailers in the 1980's. They were sensational because
they were sweet, really sweet. They were the perfect snacking tomato. A
tomato kids could love. Suddenly, the plums became sweeter. It's not
too difficult to imagine how the popular hybrids like Santa and
Juliette were developed.
Small 1" oval red, yellow and
pink for sauce and salads, consistent shape and size so that they match
well. Today, these would be called grape tomatoes but these don't have
the super sweet flavor of the modern grape tomatoes. Sprawling
Very productive indeterminant
vines, loaded with clusters of deep rose plums an inch or so in
length. Good sauce plum, not particularly sweet.
There were also pear tomatoes (no, not the pear shaped canning
tomatoes), little inch or so long mini pears with a distinct neck like
a bosc pear. These too have been known since the 1800's. Distinctive,
ornamental and fun to grow, this group consisting of many distinct
lines of yellow, red and pink fruit and are often ignored by gardeners
Very small pear shaped fruit in
red and yellow, interesting currant x salad pear tomato cross from
Mexico, pronounced neck and much smaller than other common little pear
tomatoes. Great in salads, hearty flavor, crisp and crunchy.