Please help me find the great Turkish tomato.
July 29, 2011 12:30 PM   Subscribe

A couple of years ago I was working at an archeological dig in Aphrodisias, Turkey. At every meal we had the most fantastic tomatoes--plates of them sliced, bowls of them whole or in salads. They were the best-tasting tomatoes I've ever eaten on any continent--medium-sized, round, red-with-a-bit-of-orange. I should have smuggled home some seeds but didn't think of it. I've lost touch with the folks I worked with, so I can't ask someone there to mail me a batch, and that's probably illegal anyway. Can you suggest where I might learn this tomato variety's name, or get seed? Thanks very very much.
posted by fivesavagepalms to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Baker Creek Heriloom Seeds has an excellent variety of rare and heirloom seeds. A quick search on their site didn't bring up any native-to-Turkey tomatoes, but if you search for "Iraq" eight varieties come up and a couple look like they fit your description.

Also, you could try emailing them. They're super nice folks and can point you in the right direction.
posted by ACN09 at 12:38 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just FYI - the taste of tomatoes has as much to do with the environment and methods of growing, etc as their specific cultivar. It is likely that the tomatoes you ate were grown by traditional, non-factory farming methods and the soil was fertilized with animal manure in saline-alkaline soil.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:39 PM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

Carolyn Male is widely considered the top US expert on heirloom tomatoes. She's and active poster, or has been, on gardenweb, and you might be able to contact her there, or find other contact information for her. If I wanted an answer to this question that's what I'd try.

Here she is commenting in a thread.
posted by OmieWise at 12:43 PM on July 29, 2011

It is likely that the tomatoes you ate were grown by traditional, non-factory farming methods and the soil was fertilized with animal manure in saline-alkaline soil

I don't know if I'd get that specific (though I might), but Jon_Evil's right: tomato flavor depends on many conditions, and specific cultivar is just one of them. Any tomatoes of that variety that you grow or buy will not taste just like you remember them. The tomatoes that people are eating in that location as I write this probably don't taste exactly the same if there's been any appreciable difference in the weather between this year and the year of your visit.

I just had a conversation about how the tomatoes in my garden are generally not as good this summer as they were last year, and the only variable that we can think of is that this summer has been cooler and wetter.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:32 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Home-grown tomatoes are so much better than the ones in the grocery. Go to a farmer's market and taste a lot of tomatoes. You're likely to find some fantastic ones. I grow a few varieties of tomatoes, and am quite fond of Brandywines.

Don't store tomatoes in the refrigerator. Do serve them with a slice of onion, some sliced cucumber, some good olives. Arrange on a plate, douse with good olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs, maybe some nice vinegar. Add some rustic bread.
posted by theora55 at 1:34 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

ooops. I forgot to mention a nice slice of feta.

Once you find a tomato variety you like, try growing them.
posted by theora55 at 1:36 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing that tomatoes require certain soil conditions, climate, etc to really reach their full taste potential. Turkey probably has an excruciatingly long growing season (of course it depends where you are - I'm in Canada where our growing season is about 10 minutes). I tried growing San Marzano tomatoes in Canada and found that at the time when our growing season was winding down (mid-September) the tomatoes were just really starting to grow. Answer: they needed some warm Mediterranean sun until late October to fully develop.

That said, I've had good luck with other heirloom varieties. I buy from Salt Spring Seeds in Canada.
posted by lulu68 at 4:01 PM on July 29, 2011

Thanks, just to clarify, I know about growing your own tomatoes (that's why I wanted seeds), and about heirloom tomatoes, and about farmers markets, and about not refrigerating tomatoes, and even about feta cheese and herbs and vinegar and soil and growing seasons and brandywines and I love San Marzanos, which I can't seem to grow here either. I'm just hoping to narrow down what those tomatoes might have been that I loved in Turkey. It was a long shot, for sure. I still hope somebody here might have some ideas.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 4:40 PM on July 29, 2011

I'm no gardener, but I am a big fan of Turkish tomatoes, and I've always wondered what makes them so great.

Here's a Turkish site with tomato seeds for saleā€”one category for standard seeds and another for hybrids. There's an option for English and prices in USD, but I don't see any shipping info on the Turkish or English side. Alternatively, here's a US site with an heirloom seed brought back from Turkey in 1972.

Seeds are a start, but I think it's mostly the growing conditions. Turkey is the third-biggest tomato producer in the world, and Aphrodisias is right in the middle of the Aegean/Mediterranean tomato belt. They're mostly grown open field or in greenhouses, growers are more local and less mechanized than in Mexico and the U.S., and though there are no GMOs, there are a bunch of different breeds and varieties. For more information that you require on the tomato industry in Turkey, see these reports.

Good luck! They really are the best-tasting tomatoes on any continent, and I hope you figure out how to replicate them here.
posted by ecmendenhall at 5:45 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

This may be really over-stating the obvious so forgive me in advance, but... in addition to fabulous tomatoes grown in hot and lovely locations, often the secret ingredient to great tomatoes is salt. Lots of it, more than you think. Salt, and lemon juice or something acidic can turn good tomatoes great. I've found people really underestimate how much salt can go on a tomato, and how great it can make a tomato taste.
posted by smoke at 5:52 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

We lived in Turkey near Adana for two years, and the tomatoes are direct from heaven and all year 'round. Oh, how I miss Shepherd's salata!

Thanks for asking this question fsp! I'm going to try some different seeds and make sure my soil is alkaline. (I already fertilize with chicken and horse manure--I may have to scrounge up some cow for next summer.)
posted by BlueHorse at 10:27 PM on July 29, 2011

This'll be closed soon; any followup?
posted by theora55 at 7:48 AM on July 21, 2012

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