Arguably the most popular vegetable in the home garden, tomatoes have only been grown in the West for about 400 years. After Hernando Cortez conquered the Aztec Empire in sixteenth-century Mexico, he returned to Spain with gold as well as the plants that bore "golden apples".
These yellow-skinned tomatoes were first used in Spanish cooking before the Italians made them part of their cuisine. The red-skinned versions are thought to have been introduced to Europe from the Americas by Jesuit priests in the 18th century.
Tomatoes are easy to grow, whether in a garden bed or in a pot. They give the highest yields of any edible garden plant – sow seeds in spring and you can harvest throughout the summer.
You can grow delicious "heirloom" varieties to use in cooking, or just to eat fresh off the vine. Tomatoes can vary enormously in shape and colour, from the charcoal-fleshed, apricot-sized Black Russian, the marble-sized cherry tomatoes and the pear-shaped yellow minis up to the enormous "Mortgage Lifter" tomato. Bred from beefsteak tomatoes in the United States in the 1930s, Mortgage Lifter produces an amazing 6.4kg of fruit per plant.
As a general guide to flavour, orange and yellow tomatoes have less acid, followed by pink and purple. The sweetest are white fruits. Striped tomatoes come in a variety of flavours and sweetness, while reds are obviously the classic high-acid, fully flavoured varieties.
For more great gardening ideas, subscribe to Real Living magazine