Tomatoes are often perceived as summer fruit that need the heat of the sun to ripen fully - but ten years ago we uncovered varieties with a different kind of ripeness and a flavour profile unseen at any other time of year.
Marinda from Sicily, Camone from Sardinia, and Raf & Black Iberico from Spain are tomato varieties that only reach their full potential in
winter, when the stress of the cold makes the plants work harder. Ripening slowly from the inside out, their skins remain firm and streaked with green. However their flavour is fully developed, balancing the bright acidity of their seeds with the distinct umami sweetness of their slow-ripened flesh.
We first brought these tomatoes to chefs in London in 2008, certain that they would not only find a place on winter menus but also dramatically transform the way chefs cook. Unlike anything they’d ever tasted before, these tomatoes would open up new culinary possibilities and broaden their understanding of seasonality. But for the first couple of seasons, no-one would listen.
The idea that a tomato could be in season and taste incredible outside of the summer months went against deep-set preconceptions about seasonality. We spent two winters trying to convince chefs otherwise. We took Marinda and Camone into kitchens we knew were set on seasonality like the River Café and Hibiscus. But even after tasting them, chefs couldn’t get a handle on this radically different ripeness. The crunchy, umami profile of these varieties was too far beyond the firmly ingrained idea of what a tomato should taste like: ripened in the sun, soft and sweet.
In 2010, we realised that these varieties needed to be taken out of the context of a summer tomato and redefined firmly into their own category. We dubbed them ‘Winter Tomatoes’, grouping together varieties that shared this singular ripening process and flavour profile. In season only from the end of December to early May, Winter Tomatoes are radically seasonal: their flavour cannot be replicated at any other time of year.
By uniting them in this distinct category, we made a clearer space for these varieties of tomato that had been overlooked individually. We put the words ‘Winter Tomatoes’ into our market reports, clarifying the then unexpected presence of tomatoes in kitchens outside of summer. Once established, it didn’t take long for the term “Winter Tomatoes” to be written into menus. In March 2012, it appeared on the menu of the River Café, a restaurant that limits its daily-changing menu to what is strictly in season. This was an important milestone, a recognition of our conviction that these tomatoes - Camone, Marinda, Raf and Black Iberico - were a true winter fruit.
Nearly ten years later, the category no longer needs explaining. Our term “Winter Tomato” has entered the mainstream and can be found on menus all over London at this time of year. Their peculiar kind of ripeness is eagerly anticipated every year by the most influential chefs across London. Winter Tomato has become the byword for a truly seasonal menu.