A Food & Travel Blog

Adelaide’s Inaugural Tomato Festival – 23-24 February 2013

28/01/2013 | By

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.



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  1. Celia

    Oh Amanda, I share your pain, the only tomatoes we ever seem to be able to grow here and self-seeded ones in winter – in summer, they either wilt OR are completely infested with fruitfly, and I refuse to dust them. This event sounds fabulous though! 🙂

  2. The Food Sage

    I feel your pain, Amanda. I had a bumper crop the first year i ever grew tomatoes. I gave them away, by the bowl-ful, to my neighbour over the fence. Oh how green-fingered and generous i felt. Never again! I’ve had tomato droughts, tomato blights, and this year tomatoes that were big and red, but sandy and dry. I love the idea of this tomato fest, though. If you can’t grow ’em, support those who can … that’s what i say.

  3. Hotly Spiced

    I’m sure you’ll find your green thumb and be able to grow tomatoes again just like you used to. Any home grown tomato is so much better than what you can buy in the stores. But I do love the sound of this event xx

  4. Pat Machin

    When I moved North (and uphill) over 30 years ago, I was not prepared for a similar disaster on the tomato front. Our spring is a good 2 weeks later than in the South of England and Autumn is 2 weeks earlier. That’s in a distance of a little over 200 miles.

    And I used to be so smug about my growing skills when my Northern relatives didn’t grow their own!

  5. Barbara | Creative Culinary

    I have marked my calendar for the end of July to send you photos of the most glorious tomatoes…you know, as in turnabout if fair play?

    This is so unfair, one of my all time favorite things to eat, but I don’t touch them unless they are summer fresh or a good canned variety so the pickin’s are pretty scarce here right about now. Very, super jealous. 🙂

  6. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella

    I’m quite obsessed with tomatoes. I recently found my favourite ones on sale so I bought three boxes of them not knowing what I was going to do with them! 😛

  7. Kate

    I have had and am having a steady flow of Tom Thumbs this year – not a glut, just a perfect number each day to eat as a healthy snack.

  8. My Kitchen Stories

    One thing about loosing your mojo Amanda, is that you can always get it back. What an incredible festival

  9. natalie

    Love tomatoes. My dad grows some really great one’s throughout the year but I always fail miserably.

  10. InTolerant Chef

    How much fun to have a festival all about tomatoes! I love the idea of promoting home grown, home processed, home cooked produce.
    My tomatoes are just coming into their own and I’m picking a few most days, but I do get very jealous when my family in Queensland can grow them year round 🙁 Have you tried growing just one or two plants in pots? There’s nothing like the smell of a fresh tomato!

  11. Tandy

    Have you tried growing them in pots? Mine didn’t grow this summer as they are in a place where they got too much wind. As soon as the heat wave is over I’m going to move the plants 🙂