Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Tomato Festival Sydney

It’s a wrap

The inaugural Tomato Festival Sydney resonated whole heartedly with the public attracting thousands to the Festival. It all kicked off at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant with a summer cocktail party. Along with Grow it Local and Trolley’d they collected home-grown tomatoes, herbs and botanicals grown in the Royal Botanic Garden and by the Sydney community to infuse into the tomato cocktail creations. The Chutney/Relish, Passata and ‘Best in Show’ competitions were seriously contested making it hard for the judges including Terry Durrack, Jill Dupleix, John McFadden, Clive Blazey and Jennifer Stackhouse to decide on the winners. The VIP taste test attracting Sydney’s top chefs, food and garden writers, voted hands down for the tasty heirloom varieties over the hybrid supermarket ‘tomatoes’ as did the public who tasted their way through around 60 kg of tomatoes! Produce left over was donated to Ozharvest.

The Festival welcomed members from our neighbouring cultural institutions (Art Gallery of NSW, State Library of NSW, Australian Museum, Sydney Living Museums) as part of ‘Friends Around the Domain’ on Sunday 2 February. This was the first time such an event was held and enabled members and friends to sample the wonderful benefits of each other’s institutions. The ‘Relish’ pop-up café and bar was very popular with many relaxing throughout the day over cocktails, cider and delicious food. Other highlights included the 5-course degustation tomato inspired lunch at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant and cooking masterclasses all sold out, volunteer guided walks and talks all full plus Q&A with the experts, fresh produce and tomato delicacies for sale. Don’t miss ABC TV’s Gardening Australia on Saturday 29 March where the Festival will feature as part of their 25th Anniversary series with host Costa Georgiadis.

Just peachy tomato wins people's choice

The tide of opinion has swayed away from traditional red for the tastiest tomato with a winner of the Tomato Festival Sydney’s Public Taste Test at the Royal Botanic Garden announced as the Wapsipinicon Peach!

'This yellow hued tomato is called a peach because it has furry skin like a peach and its blush wipes away to reveal a beautifully golden, pop in your mouth explosion of flavour - sweet, but not cloying,' said Talei Kenyon from the Diggers Club.

'When we conducted our first public taste test in 1993, the Tommy Toe, a fine-looking red mid-sized cherry shaped tomato, was the standout winner, but now there are ten other tomatoes that outrank the Tommy Toe and the majority of them are not red.

'It seems red may be a bit passé, because on Friday, the eve of the Tomato Festival Sydney, for the first time ever the top score of 100 was awarded to the green grape tomato by Founder and Executive Chair of the Diggers Club Clive Blazey. This green coloured tomato was chosen as the best by a group of VIPs which included foodies such as chefs, writers and critiques,' she said.

There are three ways to rank a tomato; they are for its appearance, taste and texture. The taste is out of 60 while the other two are 20 each. You need all of these attributes in balance. The green grape was not available for the Public Taste Test due to a supply shortage.

Winners - People's Choice

The top three tomatoes the public chosee were:

  1. Wapsipinicon Peach
  2. Black Russian
  3. Jaune Flamme

The top three tomatoes VIPs chose: 

  1. Green Grape
  2. Rose de Berne
  3. Aunt Ruby’s German Green.

Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Deputy Executive Director, Dr Summerell said it was interesting to note that the winning tomatoes chosen by both the VIPs and the public were all heirloom varieties.

'The Tomato Festival, although entertaining, had a deeper purpose and that is to raise awareness of the heirloom varieties of tomatoes which have not been bred or hybridised with mass production in mind,' Dr Summerell said.

'Hybrids are the type of tomato seeds and plants you’d buy from commercial suppliers - they produce big yields and are easier to transport but often have less flavour. Heirlooms develop naturally with pollination occurring naturally. Heirloom varieties tend to have superior flavour and are easy to grow - which is great for the home gardener.

Because heirlooms are not hybridised, gardeners can collect their own seed from them each year, which allows you to control your own seed source. Once an heirloom variety is lost, it cannot be recreated and biodiversity decreases,' he said.

The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust joined with the Diggers Club for this event - Diggers began rescuing heirloom tomato seeds about 25 years ago and introduced them to Australian gardeners in 1991.

Winners - Competitions

Passata Challenge

  • 1st Place - Barbara  Woszczylo
  • 2nd Place - Nina Scardino
  • 3rd Place - Ms Lucia Martino
  • Highly Commended - Beatrice Tantillo

Chutney/Relish Challenge

  • 1st Place - confidential
  • 2nd Place - Donna Doyle
  • 3rd Place - Ged Kervin
  • Highly Commended - Mark Conoley

‘Best in Show’ home grown tomato categories

  • Alison Hibbert
  • Allene Symonds
  • Paul Pantelakos

Tomato-Fest-Program Click here to download the program pdf.

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