Catherine StewartTomatoes and rhinos. Yes, together.

Tomatoes and rhinos don’t often come together in the same sentence, or day for that matter. Friday in the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney was an exception with tomatoes, those magnificent and colourful beasts of the fruit and vegetable world, playing to the crowds alongside that equally ‘colourful’ and magnificent of wild beasts, the rhinoceros.

Tomato beauty parade

The Tomato Festival charged off to a roaring start on Thursday night with a tomato-flavoured cocktail party but it was my expert palate that was invited to be part of the festival taste testing, to choose Sydney’s favourite tomato.

Penny Blazey of Diggers Club prepares our tomatoes

Penny Blazey of Diggers Club prepares our tomatoes

Diggers Club, which sells a wide range of heirloom tomatoes brought over 20 varieties to Sydney’s Botanic Gardens for horticulture and foodie experts to examine and rate for taste, texture and appearance. The beauty parade of bright green, yellow, orange red and almost black tomatoes was a feast in itself but then the difficult work of trying to be a discriminating judge began.

Do you know how many different tomatoes you can eat before you start to get confused about what a tomato is supposed to taste like? In my experience, about five. Some seemed a little sweetly perfumey to me, others had a (to me) less pleasing acidity. Although I have to add that if any of them were served up on a cheese and tomato sandwich, I would have been quite happy. With the exception of course, of the one quaintly just labelled ‘Tomato’. No doubt a generic supermarket variety, it had the flavour of old tap water combined with a somewhat slimy texture. Definitely one to avoid.

Tomato tasting Sydney Botanic Gardens

And do you know how many slivers of tomato you can pick up with a toothpick before you drop one on your shirt? Also about five, proving that wearing orange (and I notice that Costa from Gardening Australia also sensibly chose a tomato-disguising bright red shirt) was A Good Idea.

Tomato names read like a thoroughbred racing stable – Jaune Flame, Black Krim and Black Russian, Tigerella, Violet Jasper, Ananas Noir, Periforme Abruzzo, Hungarian Heart and the unpronounceable Wapsipinicon Peach. After trying more than 20 tomatoes, even with a ‘palate cleanser’ of fresh bread, I found my scoring was all pretty high, compared to Clive Blazey who was doing a version of the ‘Romanian judge’, scoring everything in the low teens.

Ananas Noir tomato

My favourite? I was surprised to find how tasty the green tomatoes were, and scored Ananas Noir the highest, even though it does look a little manky.

But there was one mystery tomato that was wasn’t on the tasting bench as it’s still ‘on trial’. Simply called ‘Red and Black’ (or was it Black and Red?), look out for it, as in taste and texture it’s a cracker, although it does look like it’s been blow-torched on the top! Apparently we weren’t supposed to try it as it’s not yet in production, but Ian sneaked a piece for Jules of garden2kitchen and me to try. Yummo!

And now, from tomatoes to the rhinos…….

ART-C rhino - Target Practice

ART-C rhino – Target Practice

Taronga Zoo wants to raise money for its rhino conservation work. From now until April you will find life-sized rhinos popping up all over the city and on through the Blue Mountains to Dubbo as part of the Wild! Rhinos Trail. Visit the Wild! Rhino Trail website or you can download an app with all the locations.

All 125 rhinos (both full-size and baby) are decorated – with paint, applique, mosaic tiles – and as different from each other as you could imagine. Rhinos as Elvis, a swimmer, R-bot, superhero, flower-power and camouflaged….something for everyone!

Put a Lid On It rhino by Jane Gillings

Put a Lid On It rhino by Jane Gillings

The Sydney Botanic Gardens is hosting two of the Wild! Rhinos, so I went down to that grassy area between the harbour and the Oriental Garden to check them out.

‘Target Practice’ from ART-C tells the rhino’s sad story in a colourful way with tiles donated by Trend Australia. ART-C is the dynamic combo of artists Catie Sully, Amanda Green, Regula Wettstein and Tracy Stirzaker. The other ‘garden’ rhino, called ‘Put a Lid on It’, is from artist Jane Gillings and reuses a gazillion plastic lids and bottle tops.

On May 14, all the rhinos will be auctioned off to raise money for Taronga’s rhino conservation programs.

But just how many ‘rhino-and-me’ selfies will be on instagram before then?

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Catherine Stewart

About Catherine Stewart

Award-winning garden journalist, blogger and photographer; writer for garden magazines and co-author of 'Waterwise Gardening'; landscape designer turned landscape design judge and critic; compulsive networker and lover of generally putting fingers in lots of pies. Particularly mud pies. Creator, curator and editor of GardenDrum. Sydney, NSW.

3 thoughts on “Tomatoes and rhinos. Yes, together.

  1. Michael McCoy on said:

    So is that all we’re going to get – one official, and one unofficial favourite? I’m ripe with questions. Were there different appealing categories of flavour? Was it apparent which ones you’d want to bite into like an apple and which would be best to add a real tang to a pasta sauce? Was there any correlation between flavour and colour? Was there any correlation between visual and flavour appeal? Were there any flashy, disappointing novelties? I need more on this!

    • No chance to bite into anything like an apple as they were all cut up into tiny little slivers. Something else that surprised me was how much difference texture makes. None were ‘floury’ like the shop-bought ones, but some had an unattractive slipperiness to them. I’d love to know what makes the liquid in a fruit have that slightly slimy quality in the mouth. And what makes you think I’ve ever made a pasta sauce from real tomatoes? Flavour and colour – definitely NO correlation at all. Some of the redder, more visually appealing varieties had put all their effort into appearance rather than taste. I’d say many of the other taste testers, like me, were quite surprised at how flavoursome the green tomatoes were, many preferring the green ones ahead of anything red. Could play havoc with the look of a salad though. What disappointed me were some of the standard ‘names’ – I thought Grosse Lisse was supposed to be a tried and true yummy one, but I thought it tasted pretty ordinary. Interestingly, the Tommy Toe also did not impress me on the day, and yet the ones off my own, appalling-looking plant in a pot at home (I eat them by day and the possums by night) are very tasty. So either it’s relative, or giving them a hard life can improve the flavour. Although not the yield!

  2. I wonder what a blind tasting would throw up ( oops, didn’t mean that as it sounds). I mean if you couldn’t see the tomato colour shape etc and just went by the taste. That would be a telling exercise. So much of our food appraisal goes by looks. We eat with our eyes, too. V interesting, Catherine.

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