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Taste test highlights the importance of saving and sharing heirloom seeds to preserve tomatoes for future generations

The Diggers Club & Foundation 3 mins read
Nonna Pepina's tomato - winner of the Beefsteak & Saucing tomato category at the 30th Diggers Great Tomato Taste Test

Black Cherry was crowned the best tasting heirloom tomato in Australia last night by a panel of gardening superstars and food experts at Heronswood House and Gardens, the home of the Diggers Foundation on the Mornington Peninsula.

The well known heirloom variety - Black Cherry - was a stand out for the official taste test panel who were brought together to taste and rate the best heirloom tomatoes in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first Diggers Great Tomato Taste Test.

Blayne Bertoncello from O.MY Restaurant (Good Food Guide Best Restaurant of the Year 2024) joined this year's official taste test panel, alongside gardening royalty Jane Edmanson and Costa Georgiadis, acclaimed organic gardener Phil Dudman, author of Preserving the Italian Way Pietro Demaio, VicHealth CEO Sandro Demaio, and three of the participants in the very first Diggers tomato taste test in 1993 - garden writer Peter de Waart and co-founders of the Diggers Club and Foundation Penny Blazey and Clive Blazey. 

Diggers Club and Foundation CEO Tim Sansom said that over 65 heirloom tomato varieties had been grown in preparation for the event, before the top varieties in three categories (beefsteak and saucing, cherry, and salad) were selected for the panel to taste and rate. However, one variety almost didn't make it onto the judges tasting plates - Nonna Pepina's - which came to Diggers last year from one of its members - Ken Carr in Annangrove (about 25km from the centre of Sydney).

The Diggers Club has almost 80,000 members throughout Australia and Ken Carr, aged 66, was one of them who put his hand up to not only take part in seed trials in August 2023, but to also donate a tomato seed line that his family has been growing for generations.

"I've been growing tomatoes since I was three and am amazed at the varieties I still don't know about," Mr Carr said.

"Each year, I try a range of varieties from every colour and shape of cherry tomatoes to my largest...Nonna Pepina's...she was the one who provided the orginal [seeds]...unfortunately smuggled into Australia in 1946 stitched into her bra strap."

When informed about Nonna Pepina's being named the best Beefsteak and Saucing tomato today, Ken said: "I'm pleased everyone likes them as much as I do. They are nice just chopped up and pan fried still keeping them solid, add a leaf of two of basil and pile on toast."

Diggers Club & Foundation CEO Tim Sansom said that the official taste test panel rated heirloom varieties of tomatoes for their taste, texture and appearance.

"The best tasting tomatoes are often the smallest and Black Cherry was a standout in the Cherry Tomato category. They are highly productive, easy to grow and work in salads, lunch boxes and as garden snacks straight from the vine in gardens around Australia," Mr Sansom said.

"Sweet Cassidy was the winner of the Salad Tomato category - a mid-sized fruit that boasts the same sweetness of a cherry tomato. A new addition to our range and a discovery from our seed vault, we knew this tomato was something special. 

"Nonna Pepina's was the winner of our Beefsteak and Saucing Tomato category. Beefsteaks are the large meaty tomatoes that can be sliced or used in sauces, while the saucing tomatoes offer more flesh and less seeds - which makes them incredibly versatile for cooking."

Mr Sansom said that last night's taste test was as much about preserving the diversity of tomatoes as it was about crowning a winner.

"Nonna Pepina's is such a great story and I'm sure there are other seed gems being passed down in families around Australia, but if we don't take steps to preserve and share those seed lines, we're in danger of losing them for future generations to enjoy.

"These heirloom varieties represent important cultural heritage," Mr Sansom said.

"Everyone can play a role in preserving open-pollinated, heirloom seed varieties of vegetables, just by making more informed decisions about the seed we decide to plant in our gardens. It's one of the ways we can keep control of what we grow and serve up on our plates - so those decisions remain in the hands of gardeners and not large corporations.

"The Diggers Foundation is preserving biocultural treasures like heirloom seeds to ensure they don't disappear. By growing and saving seed of these precious heirlooms we can make sure that they will be accessible to future generations."

Ends


Key Facts:

Diggers Club & Foundation Tim Sansom is available for interviews.

Two minutes of video footage from the 30th Great Tomato Taste Test last night (1 March) available here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1d_-rAv17-gL4VgIYS3ZwAh5Pq7MBKYis

Read more about the winning varieties here: https://www.diggers.com.au/pages/tomato-taste-test

There is an opportunity for everyone to cast their votes for the 2024 Diggers People's Choice heirloom tomato at the Heronswood Harvest Festival on 9-11 March: https://www.diggers.com.au/pages/harvest-festival-2024

The Diggers team also voted on which tomato they thought led the pack, and the winner they named was Costoluto Genovese: https://www.diggers.com.au/products/tomato-costoluto-genovese-organic


About us:

The Diggers Club is Australia's largest community of gardeners, working together to create beautiful and productive gardens for a sustainable future. All profits raised by the Diggers Club are contributed to the Diggers Foundation to preserve historic gardens and preserve heirloom seeds and plants.


Contact details:

Call Jillian Marsh on 0447 034 067 or email media@diggers.com.au

Other images available on request

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