Tomato frenzy

It's love at second sight. Among the many varieties, the typical Mallorcan Ramallet tomatoes do not boast a crisp exterior or bright colors. But when it comes to taste, tradition and shelf life, no other variety can beat them. Text: Brigitte Kramer Photo: Gunnar Knechtel / Anna Brauns

Tomatoes love that: The plants spend around 1,000 hours in the blazing sun during the average island summer. From this energy they draw the strength to ripen the most diverse varieties, shapes, sizes and flavors. Since the fruit was brought to Spain from America, the islanders have specialized in growing a special tomato for almost every dish. The Mallorcans had almost forgotten this knowledge due to the tourist boom. Now it is being revived.
You can feel this when you visit Finca Can Roseta in the north-east of the island. The brief note on the shopping list "one kilo of tomatoes" won't get you anywhere here.

Organic gardener Biel Sureda, a 34-year-old man with strong hands and a soft voice, helps you decide. Do you want to make a salad or a sauce? Would you like to buy large quantities to dry or preserve the inexpensive summer fruit for the winter? Or are you expecting a nice visitor from home to whom you have promised a typical island snack, i.e. a "pa amb oli"?
Sureda learned to grow seedlings from an early age on his parents' farm near Manacor. He later set up his own business as a boat mechanic. But with the crisis, his industry was in the doldrums for months, which he used to help his parents.

"During a course on the use of chemicals, they encouraged me to try organic seedlings, which were not yet available on the island at the time," says Sureda. Today, he uses this idea to feed his family, and quite healthily at that.
There is the right variety grown on the island for every occasion. Various bottled tomatoes ("tomàtiga de pruna"), peeled and cooked, refine pasta or are suitable for canning. Raw and combined with white onions and bright green peppers, the meaty "cor de bou" (ox heart) becomes the island's typical trempó salad.

Tomatoes in all their variety and for every taste

And there are even subtle differences in the cherry tomatoes: "There is an elongated variety that I call the date cherry tomato, which is sweeter and has less acidity," explains Sureda, before turning to a waiting customer.
Llorenç Joan Santandreu has come with his six-month-old son Jaume. Jaume sleeps in a sling on his stomach while the young father learns about different varieties of Ramallet tomatoes, which he wants to grow himself in his garden near Santa Margalida. Santandreu could actually have learned this art from his father - Jaume's grandfather. But the opportunity was missed: "My father was a farmer until he was 35 years old. Then the tourism boom came and he got a job as a delivery driver for Coca Cola. Now he's 83 years old, he doesn't talk much about the old days. Farming meant poverty back then." Things are different today.

Ramallet tomatoes are popular and expensive. Any self-respecting Mallorcan household has them in the house all year round. After all, the rather pale and inconspicuous fruits are grated onto the pa amb oli with every snack. "So far, I've been buying them from a friend. But organic ramallets are expensive, so now I want to try growing them myself." And of course, the tradition that has been almost forgotten over the years of the tourism frenzy should not be lost on Mallorca.

Six-month-old Jaume listens in, albeit in his sleep, and Santandreu is told by Sureda, who is about the same age, that he has to place the shrub almost horizontally in the ground and only water it properly until the first small fruits appear. Then it's a case of watering as little as possible. "The tomatoes stay small and can be stored for longer."

The shelf life - without a refrigerator from autumn through winter to the new tomato summer - is the supreme discipline of ramallets, alongside taste and island tradition. The best way to store them is to break off the last link of the stem when harvesting. They hang freely in the air on the stalks, which are about one centimeter long, threaded onto a string or knotted.
The Ramallet tomatoes are grated onto the pa amb Oli

Ramallet tomatoes are popular and expensive

"If you want to make less effort, you can simply put them in a box and regularly sort out the rotten fruit," says Sureda. But even with ramallet tomatoes, the Mallorcans distinguish between around 20 to 30 different varieties, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and different names depending on where they are grown. There are the elongated ones, which keep for a particularly long time, the Banyalbufar ramallets, which develop their flavor best when grilled, or the flat fruits, whose stems are particularly high-yielding ...
Now you know. You wanted a kilo of tomatoes? So, which variety would you like?

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