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French vs American "heirloom" tomatoes


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Anybody knows any shops or in markets in Paris that carries a great selection of different varieties of quality tomatoes. I'm also looking for some ancient and rare species. These days, it seems difficult to find decent quality tomatoes, or it's just I didn't try hard enough yet.

Any tips to find great quality vegetables and herbs will be appreciated too. Thanks all

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Anybody knows any shops or in markets in Paris that carries a great selection of different varieties of quality tomatoes. I'm also looking for some ancient and rare species. These days, it seems difficult to find decent quality tomatoes, or it's just I didn't try hard enough yet.

Any tips to find great quality vegetables and herbs will be appreciated too. Thanks all

Out in front of Rouge Tomate in the Marche St Honore in tomato season there is a display thing with heirlooms. I'm told that there's a guy in the Sunday market right in front of the Palais de Tokyo (Av Pres Wilson) who has an incredible selection. And finally, I'll bet Hediard has good but pricey ones; never looked specifically, but given their target market, it's a pretty good bet.

John Talbott

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I think the market John mentionned across the Palais de Tokyo is saturday morning. And the guy with the fabulous tomatoes is Joel Thiebault.

"Mais moi non plus, j'ai pas faim! En v'là, une excuse!..."

(Jean-Pierre Marielle)

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I think the market John mentionned across the Palais de Tokyo is saturday morning. And the guy with the fabulous tomatoes is Joel Thiebault.

You are absolutely correct Zouave. My apologies. I conflated when I wanted to eat at Aux Marches du Palais (Sun) and the day the market was open (Sat).

John Talbott

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There are two organic/farmers' markets in Paris which should have some great tomatoes, etc. soon - Raspail on Sundays and Les Batignolles on Saturdays. Almost all of the other markets are not farmers' markets - vendors buy their produce from Rungis like the supermarkets - and the best selection goes directly to top chefs at restaurants. Have you been to le Potager du Roi - the Vegetable Garden of the King - at Versailles? Talk about heirloom produce - they grow and sell fruits and vegetables once grown and eaten by the Sun King himself.

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  • 2 years later...

Host's Note Since we had wondered off the topic of where to live that has a good market into tomatoes, I thought it merited a separate topic. I hope you'all'll agree.

I've only been in Paris for a little over a year and I currently live in the 6th arr.

I should mention at this point that I am a tomato snob. I grew my own (and froze enough to cover the winter) when I lived in Pennsylvania. I developed a taste for the heirloom tom sliced while still warm from the sun, so I'm pretty difficult to please on that front. I've been combing Paris for a decent tomato for a while now. I had been hoping to find one this September and I did find some good ones at the bio stand in the Ave Pres. Wilson market. I was not happy with Thiebault's toms. They weren't ripe. Not his fault - I don't see how he could get them ripe with the weather the Paris region has been plagued with this summer (I understand the agriculteurs are all complaining about it).

I would be very interested if anyone else has seen great tomatoes (especially heirlooms aka "tomates a l'ancienne") elsewhere.

CavePullum

Cavepullum,

I too have been searching for tomatoes as good as we had back home (I am from Philadelphia ) and I'm sad to say that so far I have not found anything that comes close. The texture is always a bit mealy, even when I buy organic heirloom tomatoes. Actually, I have a friend from La Derniere Goutte who told me she had met someone who was as obsessed as I was by finding great tomatoes in Paris, so I think it must be you :smile:

www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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"...mention at this point that I am a tomato snob. I grew my own (and froze enough to cover the winter) when I lived in Pennsylvania. I developed a taste for the heirloom tom sliced while still warm from the sun, so I'm pretty difficult to please on that front."

Ok, you two, not to make you jealous, but I have some amazing heirlooms right this minute sitting out on my prep table. Red ugly, yellow, green but not really green (some sort of variety I can't remember-green tiger?).

We have some really cool farmer's markets, CSA, Fair Food stuff going on in Philly right now, and yes, there's nothing like a Pa/NJ heirloom!

So, if the season can only last three more weeks, (it's unseasonably warm here)-I'll bring some to the Butter tasting on November 1st!

Promise.

Do you think I should pack them as gently as possible, wrapped well in my luggage, or do you think I can try to carry them in my carry on?

Philly Francophiles

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I would be very interested if anyone else has seen great tomatoes (especially heirlooms aka "tomates a l'ancienne") elsewhere.

The closest I've seen were in front of the resto Rouge Tomate in the square of the Marche St Honore two years ago. Darn, I was just there yesterday and didn't check.

As for Felice's note

I too have been searching for tomatoes as good as we had back home (I am from Philadelphia ) and I'm sad to say that so far I have not found anything that comes close. The texture is always a bit mealy, even when I buy organic heirloom tomatoes.
I agree, having just had Baltimore Waverly Farmer's Market tomatoes a week ago. As an old guy with a long memory I really do think French produce has gone through an interesting process over the last 50 years; in the 1950's fruit like tomatoes were varied, flawed, irregular and fragile, in season for relatively short periods of time; then over the last decades, I began to see product become available all year long and watched as the origin of each item changed with each month as winter crept in (and I concluded that the French importers were cleverly telling producers in Spain/Italy and Africa/Israel what they'd buy); but like in the US, when UCDavis faculty worked on making tomatoes transportable long distances, more uniform, and unfortunately less tasty and interesting; now perhaps the pendulum can swing back here as it has in the States and we'll see those funny looking but more interesting tasting products again.

John Talbott

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Ok, you two, not to make you jealous, but I have some amazing heirlooms right this minute sitting out on my prep table. Red ugly, yellow, green but not really green (some sort of variety I can't remember-green tiger?).

We have some really cool farmer's markets, CSA, Fair Food stuff going on in Philly right now, and yes, there's nothing like a Pa/NJ heirloom!

So, if the season can only last three more weeks, (it's unseasonably warm here)-I'll bring some to the Butter tasting on November 1st!

Promise.

Do you think I should pack them as gently as possible, wrapped well in my luggage, or do you think I can try to carry them in my carry on?

TarteTatin,

I would be in absolute heaven if you managed to smuggle some in. Perhaps it's just not warm enough in Paris and you need to travel South for great tomatoes.

www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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TarteTatin, put me on the list for smuggled toms too!

Felice, not to put a damper on things, but I have spent some (summer) time on the French sourthern Med coast from Marseille to the Italian border. I search through every market I come across, and my success rate on tomatoes is about 5%. I once found some nice pink Brandywine-like ones in a market near Saint Mandrier Sur Mer (outside Toulon) which were above average, but that stand's other varieties were mealy and tasteless. I've sailed around the Med for months at a time and been surprised by the mediocre tomatoes in many markets from the Balearic Islands to Sicily and Greece. Really Surprised. ('s ok, I cheered myself up with gelato and granita ;)

This past year I've often thought that there would be great demand for great tasting toms here in Paris both from individuals and restaurants. Someone's bound to do it. Here's hoping for that pendulum swing as John Talbott puts it.

Next week I'm going to head over to Rouge Tomate...

-CavePullum

(edited for typos)

Edited by CavePullum (log)
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I was getting amazing heirlooms all summer long at the Saturday Batignol, they had the best selection of heirlooms including my favorite, the green zebra. There are also two suppliers that have heirlooms in the D'Aligre covered market. The Bastille didn't have much, neither did the Friday Raspail or the President Wilson Market. As for non-markets, there is a Bio place on Saint Denis just north of Passage Cerf on the left hand side that has them. Bio Coop in the 10th doesn't seem to stock a variety though.

"When planning big social gatherings at our home, I wait until the last minute to tell my wife. I figure she is going to worry either way, so I let her worry for two days rather than two weeks."
-EW
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I was getting amazing heirlooms all summer long at the Saturday Batignol, they had the best selection of heirlooms including my favorite, the green zebra.

I have found heirlooms in many of the Paris markets and some of them are not bad, it's just they are not as good as the one's I remember from Pennslvania and NJ. In the summer we had beautiful blood-red tomatoes, without even a hint of mealy texture. They didnt need anything more that a bit of salt and were delicious.

Here is an article that explains why some tomatoes taste better than others from Columbia University

Attack of the bland, mealy tomatoes, By Ken Millstone

The article explains that

"Good tomato flavor comes from a complex mix of sugar, acid and around 20 natural chemicals. In making a more durable product, tomato breeders have squeezed those elements out of the familiar varieties"

and that

"Unfortunately, tomatoes start to lose flavor and become mealy below 55 degrees--a climate that’s not limited to refrigerators. If a tomato has been in a cold semitrailer or cargo hold, even the best breeding and cultivation will have been wasted."

www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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The problem with French tomatoes is what I call the industrial-agrarian syndrome. As "forgotten" varietals are found again, the big fruit-and-vegetable company whose name starts with an S and which has taken the life out of perfectly decent strawberries, tomatoes, etc., pounces on them and turns them into their perfect likeness, only tasteless.

That happened with the delicious cœur-de-bœuf tomatoes. A few years ago those tomatoes were "rediscovered" by small growers and restaurateurs, and I remember a fabulous salad of those tomatoes served by Camdeborde at La Régalade. Then shortly after the S... entity started growing and selling cœur-de-bœuf, which were pretty but as dull as any winter greenhouse tomato from Holland. The same thing happened with other varietals. Which did not make them any cheaper, how strange.

The solution is to get tomatoes from markets, but still be vigilant.

Apart from that tomatoes are not better in a country than in another, it all has to do with the way they are grown.

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The problem with French tomatoes is what I call the industrial-agrarian syndrome. 

The solution is to get tomatoes from markets, but still be vigilant.

Apart from that tomatoes are not better in a country than in another, it all has to do with the way they are grown.

Pti, Felice, Braden, Cave, Tarte - everyone: I suppose this deserves a new topic and Pti has already commented elsewhere about the fact that French open markets are not what we in L'Amerique Profond consider Farmers' Markets. Whatever faults American food has and I don't want to start WWIII by discussing McDo's, etc, but, whether it was average citizens, or Alice Waters or the Chino's who are/were responsible, Farmers' markets in Baltimore and Philadelphia really go back to the best traditions - that is, they only sell what they grow, only in season, and fresh, no matter how funny looking. I truly don't know how it happened, but they co-exist with entreprises just as stiffling as S....; QUERY: can we here learn anything from the American experience (however, recall that it was UCDavis who/that invented all these wonderfully colored, identically shaped and beautifully sized, astoundingly sturdy and incredibly tasteless tomatoes and apples we all suffer with.)

John Talbott

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A market in France is not, and never was, a place where all the products are supposed to have been grown by the vendors. Nobody expects that. It is a place to get fresh food, including fruit and vegetables, some grown by the vendors, some sold by good retailers. And there are also the butchers, fishmongers, cheap clothing and kitchenware stalls. And they have always been around. That fundamental difference between French markets and American farmers' markets was, in the thread about French country markets, the point that some had considerable difficulty to understand. Both institutions are so different in concept and in historical, social, etc., background, that I do not think they should be compared or any of them set as an example for the other.

The only French institution that is similar to the American farmers' market, and comparable in social and historical value, is the "marché biologique", with several examples in the Paris region. But marchés biologiques are quite apart from regular markets.

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Tomato page

I thought this site might intrest you. When I was working in Grenoble last summer we used to get heirloom tomatoes delivered by mail order from somewhere in France and they were fantastic, but typically I have lost the name of the company we got them from! :angry:

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  • 4 weeks later...

Ok, I have some green heirlooms from Pa (not Jersey), that I'm bringing to the Butter Tasting on Thursday!

If they aren't ripe yet, I'll dole them out to whoever is there.

They're from a farm just north of Gettysburg. Got them at our Sunday farmer's market at Headhouse Square. I told them about it a few weeks ago, and they gathered up what they thought would be good to last.

We've got a box and lots of tissue paper, wrapping each one carefully and putting it in the luggage.

I'd say I have about 10.

Philly Francophiles

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  • 7 months later...
  • 3 weeks later...

naf,

As someone who has worked on tomato physilogy for more than 25 years, i find some of the comments above amusing, because of the immense effort devoted to puzzle out tomato flavor, sugar and taste genetics in many centers all over the world.

http://aob.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/100/5/1085

It is amusing to see the high-powered science and effort devoted to the taste of a single fruit, more than all the hundreds of fruit and vegetables combined tha people elsewhere depend upon for their very existence.

"Ancient and rare" does not make some "better". Well-grown does, plus the large-fruited tomato has some inherent limitations. However, CIREF, FRANCE works very hard on tomato and strawberry flavor [Mara de Bois, Cirafine, Cijosee, to name some strawberries worth growing].

Dr. Mathilde Causse is the Project Leader and she with Vilmorin have many interesting tomatoes in the works.

[bTW, Sementis does have many sins, that have to do with power and other issues, but it also does some good as well and does produce some excellent varieties. To its credit, it searches out, keeps in production, releases worldwide, open-pollinated varieties like the watermelon Quetzali, witht he trait of exceptionally hard rind, making for durability, shipping, disease-resistance in the field.

It helps Third world farmers multiply stock for free and researchers take advantage of this very important trait. That watermelon is extremely fine tasting. Another great contribution is the garden pea, Dualis, open pollinated. It takes 9-10 generations of inbreeding, selfing, selection, a lot of money, to put such varieties in the public domain. I have no truck with any sedconglomerate and am deeply upset by certain apects of their business practices, very afraid.]

For a few great French/European varieties:

1.St. Pierre, a red cluster

2. Chateau Rose, a pink large-fruited

3. Italian Red Pear sold by Franchi Sementi;ad it F1 hybrid version, "Tomande"

4. Costoluto Genovese, also by Franchi Sementi

There is an organization preserving heirlooms, ....Kokopelli ..., in France that can clue you in to other varieties available . There are German and Belorussian collectors of tomato seed who also sell. Their names may be found by going to Tomatoville, a organization of tomato lovers in the US.

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  • 1 month later...

Well, having just gotten back from a month in the US, where the Farmer's Market tomatoes were pretty fine, I was seduced by the sight of what appeared all the world to be heirloom tomatoes in my plain ole street market (on the Poteau side of the Duhesme spread) two days ago. Tonight I had one sliced with (1) squeezed industrial mayonaise and (2) with some balsamic bought by the Missus and me in Modena and plain ole extra virgin Puget olive oil. The oil and vinegar won out but the tomatoes were clearly first rate and as good as anything stateside.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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i lived in Missouri for many years which i think is now one of the biggest growers of heirloom tomatoes in the country and the heirlooms that I picked up at Thiebaulds stand last wednesday are just as good as any I've had in the states.

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Between the ones I brought over to Paris last year, and the ones that I've had here in Philly/New Jersey (from the farmer's markets) this year, I have to say I'm not overwhelmingly impressed!

They truly have acquired that "ugly" heirloom look, but the taste just isn't as incredible as I've had.

Perhaps it has to do with season to season, as opposed to Jersey vs. French, vs terroir, etc.?

I mean, the stone fruit this year from the farmer's markets here in Philly are the best I've had in years! The best apricots, peaches, cherries, even non stone: blackberries, etc. What a great fruit season I feel we've had.

And, yet, I'm not overwhelmed with the tomato tastes. They're good, very good, but not GREAT.

Philly Francophiles

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