There was, a long time ago, a programme on BCC television called ‘That’s Life’ and everybody’s main memory of that programme, despite the years of serious investigative reporting, revelations, and shocking stories, was the mis-shaped vegetables and fruits that people sent in, the weird and cheeky.
If you have any aspirations to win a knobbly vegetable competition, and secretly I think we all have, then I have a definite contender for you, a variety which supplies fine examples every year. A vegetable which will make you smile.
My best one yet, a horse shoe of a tomato, as big as my hand, and weighs 632gm, which is 1lb 6.25oz in real money
What is it about us English that makes us smile when we see a deformed or mutant vegetable? Everyone else would be heartbroken because they didn’t get a perfect specimen, and then might quickly put it into a soup or stew, before anyone spotted it. Yet we will give greater care to carrying a mutant home, and take more pride in showing it to everyone, friends and strangers alike, than we would a spectacular prize winning example of the variety. We can’t wait to show kids and infect them with this harmless but strange interest. Perhaps, like our Victorian ancestors, its because we love curiosities, and for one to simply appear in our allotment or garden, and not have to be transported here on a sail ship from exotic places full of aggressive natives, seems to be some sort of privilege. Certainly that’s how I see it. They never fail to make me smile.
I’m very proud of this courgette which looked like a sea creature, but tasted very nice. It’s actually two courgettes which have fused together.
We particularly love things that look like people (perhaps a residual pagan memory), things that look like bums, and especially things that might look like they have a willy. We all have the internet and could, if we wanted to, see a willy any time we like, a real one, but we don’t. Yet the novelty of a deformed parsnip never fails to amuse us. We don’t actually want to see a willy but for some reason we love seeing something that might look like one. Strange! I’ve never done an internet search for ‘willy’ or ‘penis’, but I have, on several occasions typed in ‘knobby vegetable’, and been easily distracted from my original research by the picture of weird fruit or vegetable on an allotment blog, or on a FaceBook page.
Carrots and parsnips seem to be our favourites.
We even have ‘Knobbly vegetable competitions at country shows, at fairs, in church halls and at community centres, and give prizes for the best one. And whilst people will gently drift past prize winning examples of perfect fruit and veg they will linger and point at the knobbly winners, and call their friends over to snigger. Why? Why do we do it? Why do we snigger? Why do you do it?
Yes you too! Isn’t that why you are reading this? Aren’t you just like me?
And you might be reading this because you are planning to excitedly grow mutants, drawn here by the promise of being able to reliably grow one on my recommendation. Doesn’t that make you worse? At least I grew my first one by accident.
So I grow these tomatoes every year and not just because they are delicious but partly it’s because I know the first flower on every plant will go wrong. Just the first flower, as if the plant is practising to get it right later, but afterwards all the tomatoes are boringly perfect. Now most gardeners would remove this flower because it’s not the perfect specimen, but not me, I protect it, and then check regularly to see what happens.
The first flower of each plant is strange, but makes possible our knobbly tomato. The single large mutant flower is in the centre with the boring normal ones developing on a truss to the left. We have this year’s mutant!
This first flower, strange to look at, and is actually several flowers, trying to squeeze out of the same place, before the truss has developed.
Boringly perfect developing fruit, just the one promising mutant to the left.
After the joined flowers are all pollinated, the fruits fuse together and grow to form a single misshapen fruit.
The side view of this single tomato shows the joins between several fused tomatoes.
The first time I saw this effect was when I grew this variety of tomatoes on my new allotment and I thought I had inherited polluted soil or something, so I didn’t eat the tomato. But now I look forward to it, smiling each time I enter the greenhouse, checking on the progress of each mutant, ignoring the rest. I am entertained for months before enjoying a fine meal, but not before emailing everyone with a picture of it of course.
A boring perfect fruit develops to the right whilst a handsome mutant lurks behind
This single mutant tomato is actually several. The individual tomatoes believe themselves to be still independent and so ripen at different rates.
This tomato looks like its been moulded from wax.
A promising start
Second grade mutants, but might still win a prize at a show.
I got another horseshoe shaped tomato this year
But this is this year’s favourite
The original seeds came to me from an allotment owning friend who visited Italy on holiday, and bought them there. I initially grew them because I thought you couldn’t get them here. They had ‘Pompodoro’ written in big letters across the top of the packet so I called them Pompodoro for a couple of years, regularly showing off my horticultural knowledge.
An Italian mechanic friend, (settled here since he was a teenager), and who’s brother still grows many things back in Italy, wanted to know the variety so I told him, proud that I had remembered a foreign name. “But Andy” he said “pompodoro just means tomato”. I felt like an idiot. My big moment lost, years of making a fool of myself, and now I had done it in front of an actual Italian. Once I got home I dug out the packet and there, at the bottom, in tiny letters, was:
I checked on the internet, and you could buy them here, everywhere, and in packets written in English. Never mind eh?
But it doesn’t matter, I still love them, great big fleshy tomatoes. Reliable, even in the Pennines where I live. I know there are many varieties of beef tomato available, all equally good, some maybe even better, but I like these. I bet their ‘Beefmasters’ don’t make their growers smile like my Costolutos do.
Lovely ripening Costoluto fiorentino fruits, or ‘Pompodoros’ if you prefer.
Growing tip – The tomatoes are enormous and if left to their own devices will snap their stems, as each fruit can weigh over a pound. So once two or three fruits have set on a truss I remove the rest, and also the remaining flowers. It’s enough. More than enough! This way I get large, fully formed tomatoes which don’t need an engineer, ten miles of string, and 15 canes to keep them upright.
This photo is my first time of growing, when I left all the fruits on. They look wonderful now but will double or even treble in size.
I lost over half of the fruits due to snapping stems and rotting. Thin them out when young.
Cut off the top, scoop some of the insides out, mix the scoopings with a favourite stuffing, put the lid back on, and stick it in the oven until cooked. One each is plenty. I often bake them with a lump of garlic courgette.
So, if you have the space, and fancy growing a beef tomato, and don’t know which one to get, give Costoluto Fiorentino a try, especially if you have aspirations to win a knobbly vegetable competition, or if you want to make a small child giggle.
Do you have any pictures of knobbly fruit and veg that you wouldn’t mind sharing? Send them to me and I will proudly display them here alongside mine.
From Ellie and Chris: