Winter tomatoes. Storage tomatoes. Piennolo-tomatoes. Eternity tomatoes. We find many names for those we love. There are many different kinds of long keeper varieties from different parts of the world. General attributes for these varieties is that they have firmer flesh and thicker skin, characteristics that allow them to be stored for a long time. As a collective name, I have started calling them "Longkeeper Tomatoes".
There are two large groups of Longkeeper tomatoes, the Italian "pienno tomatoes" and the Spanish "tomates de colgar" - "hanging tomatoes". The principle is the same, tomatoes with good storage characteristics are hung up for storage, for consumption later in the year. In addition to these, there are also varieties from, for example, Russia, the USA and others of unknown origin.
We call the Italian varieties "piennol tomatos" after the way they are stored, hanging in a “piennolo”. Piennolo is what the Italians call the big cluster of tomaotes that is hung up for storage. Piennolo just means "hanging" in Neapolitan dialect. There are five varieties that are protected by origin - DOP. DOP means "Denominazione d 'Origine Protetta", "Protected Designation of Origin" – PDO. These varieties are 'Fiaschella', 'Lampadina', 'Patanara', 'Principe Borghese' and 'Re Umbero'.
DOP/PDO is a term used in the EU since 1992. The purpose is to preserve the origin of food-related products. The products must have been produced, processed and developed in a specific geographical area, by local producers with recognized knowledge and ingredients from the region concerned. It is the same with these five tomato varieties as it is with parmesan cheese and champagne, for example. Not all sparkling wines can be called champagne, it is only sparkling wines from the French district Champagne that can be called champagne.
These five varieties were approved in 2009. In the province of Campania, with the capital Naples, there are a total of 18 municipalities where the tomatoes must have been grown and packed in order to use the designation DOP / PDO. The rules for this labelling are very strict. For example, the weight of each tomato used in a piennolo may be a maximum of 25 grams. The fruits must be red with a firm consistency. The sugar content must be at least 6.5 brix degrees. The whole piennolo must weigh between 1-5kg when it is ready after being stored a certain time.
In addition to these five varieties, there are also several other Italian piennolo tomaotes. For example, 'Piennolo de Vesuvio Casas Barones', 'Spugnillo dei Monti Lattari' and 'Napoletana Galatino'. Common for most varieties is that they are red, oblong-oval with a pointy end, the size can vary slightly from variety to variety. An exception to the red fruit colour is the fantastically beautiful 'Vesuviano Giallo' with golden yellow fruits. The pienno tomatoes remain fresh for a long time thanks to the thick skin, high sugar content and mineral salts, as well as low water content and very firm fruit flesh. Other characteristics these varieties have in common is that all of them are of indeterminate growth.
However, some Italian varieties are low-growing. ‘Grappoli d’Invierno’ is a semi-determinate and grows to about 1m high. The fruits are oval and lack a the pointy end. The name means "Winter Bundles" in Italian. Also 'Fiaschetto' is only 1 meter high, also gets red, more oval fruits with a small tip. These two varieties are easy to grow, as they do not need as much support height-wise. Quite space consuming on the width though. Support with tomato cages could be suitable.
Another Italian variety is the classic 'Pomodoro Ponderosa'. Unlike the pienno tomatoes with their red color, oval shape and pointy end, Ponderosa is round and golden-yellow-orange, about the size of a ping-pong ball. The variety has by far the best storage capacity, up to 12 months. However, the taste is quite bland for direct consumption and is best used for cooking.
The Spanish varieties mainly derives from the region of Catalonia with Barcelona as its capital, where tomatoes are a big part of the food culture. Also the Balearic Islands and Mallorca has a long tradition of longkeeper tomatoes. In the southern parts of Spain, the climate makes it possible to grow tomatoes for the most part of the year. In northern Spain, however, the winters are too cold for tomato farming. This is how the most simple possible preservation method was developed, they simply hung the tomatoes up, in wait for later consumption. In different regions, the name is a little different for these tomatoes, but the principle is the same - "hanging tomatoes", meaning that the fruits are hung up to be stored. In Spanish, the term is "Tomates de colgar", "colgar" means "to hang up" in Spanish. In Catalan, spoken in the region of Catalonia / Barcelona, these varieties are called "Tomàquets de penjar". In Mallorca, the name is "Tomate de rammallet" / "Tomàtiga de ramallet", which roughly means "tomato branch".
The variation of the varieties is larger in the region of Catalonia than in the Balearic Islands. For example, the variety 'Bombeta' from Franqueses del Vallès in Catalonia is similar to the Italian piennolo tomatoes, with its red color and oval shape with a pointy end. However, the fruits are placed differently and more irregularly on the twig than piennolo tomatoes.
But there are also more big-fruited varieties with round and oblate tomatoes, such as 'Mas Calceran', 'St Jaume de Sesoliveres' from St. Jaume de Sesoliveres, Anoia, Catalonia and ‘Mala Cara’ from Torà in Catalonia. "Mala Cara" roughly means "Bad Face" in Spanish. The name comes from the fact that the fruits are pinkish-shimmering, as well as pale-blushing, like a pale-blushing face.
Also, other shapes and sizes occur. 'Pequeño del Ramallet' from Can Bosc del Baró, Foixà, Baix Empordà, Catalonia, has very small fruits with a small pointy end. 'Can Bogunyà' from Castellar del Vallès, 'Largo de Gironella' from Gironella and 'Montgrì' from Can Bosc del Baró, Foixà, Baix Empordà all have larger fruits. 'Mallorquìn' from Solsona is similar to the Italian piennolos, but with chubbier fruits.
In the Balearic Islands and Mallorca, the most common type seems to be the so-called ‘Ramallet’ or ‘Tomate Ramallet’ or ‘Rama de Mallorca’. Here the longkeeper tomatoes are also called "tomàtiga d'enfilar". ”Enfilar” means "to line up". This after the technique used here to store the tomatoes as well as possible. Each tomato is sewn into a thick string, in a long row. Although these tomatoes are slightly larger, the fruits are firmly attached to the stem and sticks well to the string. There are also other local varieties with smaller fruits, some with a pointy end.
The Spanish varieties of longkeeper tomatoes are the result of several generations of cultivation where seeds and knowledge have been inherited. Every year the best tasting fruits with the best storage abilities has been selected, and seeds have been saved. The reason that these tomatoes differ from "ordinary" tomatoes in terms of shelf life is that they are generally small-fruited with thick skin and flesh with small amount of juice. They also contain a natural mutation called alcobaca. The mutation gives these varieties a very slow maturation behaviour, partly because they contain smaller amounts of ethylene.
The variety with the largest fruits we ever encountered is called ‘Espalda Verde’, which in Spanish means ‘Green Neck’. The variety is not a "Longkeeper Tomato", per se, but given its long shelf life it should be mentioned. The fruits are slightly ribbed, small beef tomatoes of up to 200 grams. Red fruits with red pulp and green neck. Can be stored lying on trays or such up to 3-4 months. Thick-walled fruit with a traditional tomato taste, not too sweet. It comes from Sadurní Playà, Manresa in Spain.
In addition to the Italian and Spanish varieties, there are many other varieties from, among others, the USA, Russia and other countries. These varieties are all very firm in the flesh, thick-walled with thick skin. The color is usually golden-yellow-orange or green-yellow. The fruits are slightly larger and the shape is often round to oblate. The taste is usually less sweet than in the Spanish and Italian varieties. Examples of green varieties are the "Swedish" 'Peter the Durable', 'Green Winter' and 'True Love / Vernaya Ljubov'. 'True Love', however, breaks with the norm and is, instead round - beautifully heart-shaped.
Of the golden-yellow-orange varieties, there are many different to choose from. Possibly some are the same variety that over the years got different names when the variety spread. Examples of these are 'Christmassy', 'Longkeeper', 'Pink Grapefruit', 'Reverend Morrows Longkeeper' and 'Yellow Out Red In'.
There are also some varieties that have very small fruits. 'Date Fruit Yellow' gets small, fairly thin-skinned cherry tomatoes in large bunches. The clusters can be hung whole for storing. The fruits last very well, they dry in slightly during storage, a bit resembling grapes drying to raisins. Another variety is 'Serendipity' which also gets yellow cherry tomatoes. These fruits are very hard and thick-walled.
SOWING & CULTIVATION
The question often arises when these tomatoes "should" be sown and grown. Many times the confusion probably arises when the term "winter tomatoes" is used as a collective name. Then the idea arises that these varieties should be grown during the winter? No, is the answer to this question. These varieties are grown as "regular" tomatoes during the summer, and then stored and consumed later when the "regular" tomatoes are finished for the year. As for "ordinary" tomatoes, sowing is recommended about 8 weeks before the expected planting. When it is time for you to sow differs depending on what conditions you have for your own cultivation. You could of course sow your tomatoes earlier, but then there is a risk that you will get lanky, slender and difficult-to-handle plants. There could also be a need for extra indoor growing lights. If you sow too late, the risk is that the plant is not large enough when planted to have the time to give a harvest. Many of the longkeeper varieties are "mid-season". Meaning that they have an estimated development time of about 70-80 days after planting a 7-8 week old plant. The development period is of course not an exact date for when the first tomato is ripe, but more an indication of whether the variety is early or late. The development time also depends on local conditions, the weather, the season etc.
Most of the longkeeper varieties derives from Spain and Italy, where there is both a different climate and a different soil. These varieties are very drought tolerant. The pienno tomatoes are grown without irrigation. Despite this, it works just fine to grow these varieties in most parts of the world! The Italian varieties around Campania / Naples grow for obvious reasons in very mineral-rich, volcanic soil, which obviously affects the taste. When growing these varieties, you can fertilize a bit extra with mineral fertilizers and especially potassium, which has a positive effect on the taste. And as always with tomatoes, too much nitrogen fertilization impairs the taste. Depending on one's own local conditions, certain varieties may also be better to grow in greenhouses to achieve enough heat and a sufficiently long growing season. Choosing a well-drained planting site is also beneficial.
Many of the varieties are "indeterminate", i.e. high-growing varieties that should have at least some of the suckers pruned, and will need support. Indeterminate means that the variety has an indeterminate growth habit and continues to grow and bear fruit until something actively kill it, such as cutting down the plant or autumn frost. Some of the varieties are so-called "determinate", so they have a specific growth pattern. This means that they grow to a certain shape and size and then bear fruit. After that, the plant is "ready" and dies. In general, these varieties should not be pruned but may need some support of some kind.
HARVEST & STORAGE
Questions are often asked about when-how-where these varieties should be harvested and stored, for best results. In general, the Spanish and Italian varieties with smaller fruits, are best harvested when about 50-70% of the tomatoes in a cluster have begun to ripen and change colour. The tomatoes do not have to be fully ripe but they need to be fully developed. If you harvest too early and the tomatoes are not fully developed, they will shrivel during storage. If they are fully developed but not mature, they will mature during storage. If you harvest too late when the tomatoes on a cluster instead start to be too ripe, there is a risk that they will turn into "mush" during storage. Don’t harvest after rainfall and avoid watering before harvest, then the taste and shelf life will be better.
Storing the tomatoes can both be done on trays, in boxes, or such, also reasonably airy. This is preferred for the more large-fruited varieties. It seems that the shelf life will be better if you do not remove the twig on the tomato. Sometimes when you remove the twig, there is a small damage to the tomato where air and dirt can easily enter and begin the decomposition process. The varieties with smaller fruits, like the Italian piennolo tomaotes and Spanish hanging tomatoes, can preferably be stored hanging in clusters. If you want to make it easy for yourself, the cluster can be hung, airily and spacious, so not too many tomatoes touch each other. If they hang too close, there is a risk that the tomatoes will harm each other and start to rot. If you want to be a little more ambitious, you can make a real Italian piennolo or ramasole. Or a real Spanish "tomàtiga d'enfilar" where you sew the tomatoes on a thicker thread. There are many videos and pictures that describe how this is done!
The tomatoes are then stored at about 15-18 degrees Celcius, a maximum of 20 degrees for best durability. Preferably well ventilated and airy. If you do not have access to such spaces, it also works well to store at room temperature. The tomatoes in the picture have been stored for 6 months in this way. Tomatoes are then harvested from the hanging clusters as needed. Some fruits also turn bad during storage, perhaps due to damage, that they were too ripe or too unripe at harvest. Keep track during storage and use these fruits as soon as possible.
TASTE & USE
The taste differs greatly between different varieties. Common to "Longkeeper Tomatoes", however, is that the taste is never as good, or perhaps rather - the same, as with a freshly harvested "summer tomato". However, the taste is many times better than a regular store bought tomato, during the winter. The fact that it is also home-grown does not make matter worse! The taste also depends a lot on local growing conditions, heat, sun, soil and fertilizer, something that is often forgotten when the question is asked: "Is this tomato tasty?". The taste of course differs between varieties, some are sweeter, others are sour, some taste a little grape and others taste a little tropical fruit. However, if it is too cool and wet, flavours do not develop as well as if it is warmer and sunnier. Also too much nitrogen fertilization impairs the taste. For example, the Neapolitan piennolo tomatoes are grown in very hot climates without irrigation, and in a very mineral-rich volcanic soil. The combination of heat and sun as well as a little water means that the flavours are concentrated and become stronger and fruitier.
The varieties with larger-fruits, in general have a more bland taste than "tomates de colgar" and "piennolo tomatoes" and are best suited for cooking. Eating fresh in a salad, for example, is not usually a culinary highlight. Instead, fry together with vegetables, slice into a stew, into pots and pies.
The Italian piennolo tomatoes have a sweeter taste than the large-fruited varieties and the taste is in many cases better after a period of storage. The fruits usually wrinkle and dry slightly during storage, which is completely normal when a little moisture has dried out. The fruits have not gone bad on the inside. In the picture, it is ‘Gitas Piennolo’ after 8 months of storage, rinsed, divided and ready to be cooked. A little wrinkled, but still firm and nice. Works well to use both for cooking and eating fresh. Traditionally, piennolo tomatoes are used as pizza and pasta sauce, in seafood and in other Neapolitan dishes. Just frying with a little olive oil, basil, salt, onion and garlic is also a successful concept!
Another traditional use for both "tomates de colgar" and "piennolo tomatoes" is to eat the tomatoes fresh on a slice of hard bread, with olive oil, salt and maybe a little basil on - a popular snack in Campania. The tomato is pressed directly onto the bread. The same technique has also been used in Spain. Back in the days, working on the fields, you simply brought some tomatoes and bread with you and then quickly got a tasty snack.
This dish is now part of Spanish food culture and is called "Pan con Tomate". Bread with Tomato! In Mallorca, the dish is called "Pa amb Oli", which means "Bread with Oil", but the principle is the same. The base is bread, tomato, garlic and oil. But can also be served in a number of different ways with other snacks such as cheese, ham, olives, sobrassada (Mallorcan "salami"), salad and more. The choices are endless.
The Spanish varieties are also traditionally used for cooking, in stews and soups, but not fresh in salads. However, many of the varieties are so tasty that it is not a bad area of use at all. Depending on the variety, these tomatoes store for between 3-9 months. Taste tests have, however, been made of the Spanish varieties and it was concluded that the taste is at its best after two months of storage. This depends on the development of the aromas in the fruits. This is not to say that they are not tasty and useful even after 2 months, only said that just at that time they are at their best!