Tomato blight in late summer is the bane of the amateur vegetable grower. It is most common on outdoor plants, but in recent years has also crept into the greenhouse. Leaves shrivel, brown lesions can be detected on stems, and fruit rots. In the greenhouse, an early warning may be a distinctive fungal smell.
Plant breeders have been tackling the problem: blight-resistant new tomato varieties are on their way. Suttons Seeds were first off the mark with ‘Crimson Crush F1’, which they claim as ‘the world’s first totally blight-resistant tomato’.
It is also, as trialled in pots outdoors in my garden this summer, a prolific cropper, producing high yields of medium-sized fruit with firm flesh and good flavour. The fruit keeps well on the vine, a bonus at times of glut. New from Thompson & Morgan for 2017 is Tomato ‘Mountain Magic F1’, another outdoor variety, which is said to combine the depth of flavour of heritage varieties with F1 hybrid disease resistance.
Italian chicories (radicchio), relatively unfamiliar in Britain still, make wonderful winter salad leaves. The hearting varieties grow vigorously on the vegetable plot as temperatures fall in autumn, thriving in cold weather and even prolonged periods of snow. As they bulk up, the plants form dense, self-blanching hearts. The radicchios to be spotted in greengrocers and the more enterprising supermarket are the varieties that have dark red leaves with white ribs.
The most beautiful and delicately flavoured is R. ‘Variegata di Castelfranco’. This resembles a large, butterhead lettuce. As it matures, the pale green leaves are freckled with red smudges. The tender hearts turn the palest lime green, with white at their centre. Radicchio leaves are beautiful in a mixed winter salad. For those who do not share the Italians love of bitterness, the great cookery writer Marcella Hazan recommends shredding the leaves finely on the bias to make them taste a little sweeter.
For best results, sow the seed indoors in July and plant out in August. Seeds of R. ‘Variegata di Castelfranco’ are available, among others, from Sarah Raven and Chiltern Seeds.
Text: Sarah. Photography: Lisa