Currant Tomato

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Currant Tomato, Esculentum lycopersicum

Family:  Solanaceae           

Also known as: Mexican Midgets

 

These are an important part of the Ola Brisa Gardens plant family.  “Why,” you ask?  Well, firstly and quite simply, I love to pick and eat fresh tomatoes right off the vine! 

(It’s a delightful vice that I learned from my cousins Jeanette, Dick and Cindy back on their parent’s farm in Western Kansas.  During those early Eisenhower Whitehouse years, we’d grab a salt shaker and race into their mother’s large garden to munch on vegetables that we’d pull up from the dirt or pick right from the bush or vine.  Among them, wonderfully sour rhubarb stalks, crisp, crunchy carrots, fresh lettuce, tangy radishes, and yes, lots and lots of tomatoes!)

The second reason for their inclusion along with the several other hundred tropical palms, plants and flowers in our gardens is that these hardy little guys are native to and grow wild here in Mexico!  Their ancestors were savored by the Aztecs and whatever was good enough for Montezuma is durned straight good enough for me!   

Those that vigorously grow on our Entry Terrace – and on which guests and I stop and chomp whenever passing on tours – did not come from any store bought seeds.  No way José!  (Conveniently, that’s also our head gardener’s name.)  These are the real deals! 

In fact, I first found these tiny –  and I mean small, little, itty-bitty – currant tomatoes growing wild in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains in the southern part of the State of Jalisco during one of José’s and my wandering, botanical treks through the “interior!” 

About the size of my little finger tip, they were growing there in a clustered clump, right next to some large boulders about two hundred feet (60.96 meters) from heavy tropical overgrowth.  A few botanists contend that they originated in Peru, Ecuador and Northern Chile.  But I think that may be the tiny-fruited Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium. 

I gotta’ ask, “How did these – that I found – get there in the wild?”  I concur with those who believe that tomatoes originated here in Mexico. . . . but I must admit that the pictures I’ve seen of those yet more southerly Currant Tomatoes look a lot like mine what with their delightful trusses (compact terminal clusters) of sweet tiny fruits! 

Historically, tomato seeds appear to have been taken to Europe from Mexico after Cortez wreaked his havoc on the natives in 1519.   And though originally from the New World, it was introduced to the gringo palate in the U.S. in the 18th Century.  (I’d like to think that these domesticated ones may have been distant relatives to my wild ones!)

Growing Currant Tomatoes is easy – perhaps more so than the regular, larger ones as these guys produce copious blossoms allowing a good chance many will set fruit.  But for the best results, with prolific yields, give them what they like best – lots of full sun, fertile, well-draining soil, and evenly applied moisture.

Currant Tomatoes often remain productive in very hot weather when the blossoms of larger-fruited varieties call it quits and drop off.   As to how much water is needed depends both on the rainfall received and the type of soil.  With fast-draining soil, one needs to water often if the weather’s been dry.  But before watering, check the soil for dryness – down under a bit, not just the surface.  If the foliage looks limp – as I often do after a full day in the gardens – you’ve neglected them too long.

Once your Currant Tomato plants are established and around a foot (30 cm) tall, I’d encourage mulching them with compost.  Just as in familial situations, strong support is important!  Plant-wise, prune the vines to two or three major branches.  I prefer caging them inside a rounded portion of concrete re-enforcing wire screen.  This allows good air circulation and easy access to the fruit.  But, make sure you stake them firmly into the ground.  Those wimpy inverted conical cages, sold commercially, all too often bend and may collapse under the weight of mature plants with all those yummy “maters’.

Beyond standing by the bush and simply savoring them on the spot, a bit more cultured way to enjoy them is to roast ‘em in a pan with a little garlic, salt and pepper.  Or, mix with chopped onion, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a bit of salt.  Now that is one heck of a great tomato salad.

Yum!

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As can be seen these are no monsters but make up for their small size in gigantically good taste!

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Easy to grow. Come by Ola Brisa Gardens and I’ll give you a few for seeds!

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Yep, these are those wonderful – native to Mexico – cherry tomatoes that flourish right next to our infinity pool and that were mentioned in last week’s column.