Before I tell you all about this fabulous event to celebrate a wonderful fruit and one which is probably a staple in most kitchens, I must come clean. Down on the plains I used to grow lovely tomatoes with almost no effort at all. Each year I’d pop in a few plants, throw some water and fertiliser on them and watch them grow like triffids, eventually harvesting bucket-loads of fragrant, red and flavoursome tomatoes. There would always be too many to eat so I’d cook the extra up into a simple sauce and freeze it ready for the wintry, tomato-free days ahead. I guess you could call those my salad days.
However, since our tree-change into the Adelaide Hills, my tomato mojo has up and left me high and dry. I’ve tried repeatedly, and in many different positions around our house, to grow them here with absolutely no joy whatsoever. In fact, the only constant I can cite in my tomato growing attempts over the last 10 years has been the dreaded tomato wilt which has followed me from garden bed to garden bed. After extensive efforts to combat it last year I have now conceded defeat and won’t try growing tomatoes again. So if my words on the Tomato Festival seem slightly tinged with wistfulness and disappointment I hope you’ll understand. Sigh.
Held at Adelaide Botanic Gardens and following the success of the first Tomato Sauce Challenge in 2012, which received 113 home-made tomato ketchup entries, this event has now grown into the weekend-long Tomato Festival which will be celebrated on 23-24 February, 2013. The South Australian climate is ideally suited for tomato growth (except for the area around my house, apparently) and this ubiquitous fruit is an essential part of the cuisine of many of the cultures which now call Australia home. For many of us, our knowledge of tomatoes is confined to the limited range available in supermarkets. We have little knowledge of the huge number of heirloom tomatoes available but the Tomato Festival will bring together well known cooking and gardening experts, including Maggie Beer, Simon Bryant, Clive Blazey, Jon Lamb, Sophie Thomson, Rosa Matto, Walter Duncan and Jane Doyle, to discuss and share their passion and expertise with a range of activities which will occur throughout Adelaide Botanic Garden, including the Schomburgk Pavilion, Plane Tree Lawn and North Lodge, showcasing different areas of the Garden.
In partnership with Diggers Club (Australia’s most popular gardening club with the largest range of heirloom vegetables, cottage flowers and fruit plants available) and the Botanic Gardens Restaurant, the weekend will feature the Tomato Sauce Challenge, the Best in Show competition, tomato-themed workshops, the Great Tomato Debate, cooking demonstrations, the Tasty Tomato Trail, fun activities for kids, a tomato taste test, special guided walks and a tomato themed luncheon in the award-winning Botanic Gardens Restaurant. As general interest in home food production gathers steam,the aims of this event – to bring together tomato gardeners and home cooks from across South Australia to share the benefits of home-grown produce, promote the diversity of tomato varieties and inspire cooks to embrace the versatile tomato in new ways – couldn’t be more relevant today and the extensive Tomato Festival program promises to have something to interest every one.
If you fancy yourself as a crack tomato sauce maker, the Tomato Sauce Challenge will be judged by an expert panel, including champion tomato sauce maker Walter Duncan, SA Life resident chef Rosa Matto and Gardening Australia’s Sophie Thomson. The registration for this event has now been extended to February 15 2013, so you’ve still got plenty of time to be in the running.
An interest in food security seems to be becoming a more prominent community concern and sharing our food knowledge, skills and cultural history is one very real way to help protect and fortify our collective capacity. One of the primary objectives of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide is to advance knowledge of the plant world through botanical, horticultural and ex-situ conservation programs. Botanic gardens are imperative to our future. Their role in helping us to understand the connection between plants, people and culture is vital in creating sustainable communities for generations to come.