A few years ago I started to interest myself in gardening on the balcony of our Paris appartment. I bought myself some books and bankrupted myself in the basement of BHV buying supplies (my favourite store in Paris - you can find anything in the basement of BHV) and planted seeds. My family and friends were delighted by the new trend as it gave them some new ideas for Christmas and birthday presents (mostly how-to books) and they were able to track my garden online for a while. Aside from my brother I think they thought I was getting a little flaky when I progressed to composting with my very own wormery, but generally it was seen as an amusing hobby. I guess as a result of my green tendencies a lot of friends and family suggested I try my hand at planting so-called "heirloom" seeds: those varieties that used to be common a hundred years ago and have all but disappeared from our earth today. I thought it was a great idea but it had a few practical drawbacks for myself: 1) it's all I can do to get the carefully genetically cultivated (not modified, heaven forbid) "normal" plants to grow in pots and 2) how would I know if they were turning out "right"??
Great idea, not so good for me personally. When shopping at the market, on the other hand...I am a willing and enthusiastic guinea pig!
As a result, I was absolutely delighted to find a stand at the market on Saturday that dealt with "anciennes variétés de tomates" (heirloom tomatoes). I knew I could only remember the name of one variety at a time (note to self: bring a pad of paper next time) so I chose a pound of the most interesting looking ones. Even so, it took me a little web research to reconcile my remembered name (calabèche pourpre) with the actual name of these tomatoes, calebasse pourpre (Purple Calabash). But we got there in the end and I'm able to tell you with confidence the name of these delightful little fruits. Don't you love the pumpkin-like shape? They look like they were made for a miniature Cinderella. (Incidentally, this probably is why I heard the name wrong initially - a calèche is an old-fashioned carriage in French and I think that was in my mind as soon as I saw them!)
Last night I sliced up two of them for a simple salad to accompany the main dish (which you will surely read about tomorrow if you come back for more). And the result? They seemed a little tougher than the usual varieties of tomatoes, which surprised me as the tomato seller was careful to inflate their bag and tie it tightly before handing it over. I assumed therefore that they would be very delicate, but in fact the skin was a bit thicker than usual and the flesh fairly dense. However, that does not mean to say they were less good than your average tomato. On the contrary, they were fully of flavour, a bit sharp but not under-ripe. Delicious. I have a few of the tomatoes left and I think they would probably make a very nice salsa or fresh chutney, not too soupy or too sweet. I'll have to hit the cookbooks tonight and see if I can find anything interesting! And next week, I'll bring my camera and notebook to the market and try some more of the new old varieties...and maybe manage to get a photo of the tomato seller where he doesn't look like a mad ax-murderer!
If you are interested in heirloom tomato seeds yourself, you might find the following links useful:
Gourmet Tomatofest (They have the purple calabash variety!)