Fantastic fusion delivers tomatoes and potatoes
IN MOMENTS of quirky contemplation, I have fantasised about crossing an iris with a peony . . . for a touch of irony. And what about a cross between a cauliflower and a melon? Would that make you . . . melancholy?
So enough of such fictional flowers and veg and into the real world of crazy-crossbreeding.
Those clever clogs at Thompson & Morgan have unveiled the TomTato which, you won't be surprised to learn, is the marriage of a tomato and a potato.
It means you can bake your own tomato-based dishes and add the chips . . . all from the same plant.
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Put another way, it's the nearest thing to a horticultural upstairs-downstairs.
But I'm still unsure whether to pronounce it Tom-Tayto or Tom-Tahto..
Above ground, gardeners can pick more than 500 sweet cherry toms. Below, you'll find a decent crop of white spuds which can be boiled, mashed, roasted or chipped.
In case you are already cultivating your personal "Frankenstein fears", let me assure you that this botanical breakthrough is wholly natural and safe, devoid of any genetic modification.
Rewind this scenario by 15 years and we find T & M horticultural director Paul Hansord on a trip to the US. He spotted a potato plant growing separately under a tomato plant which set him thinking about an improbable but ever-so-slightly possible creation. And he then learned it was possible to graft the pair together because they belong to the same family – solanacea or nightshade – and are therefore compatible for double-cropping.
The project, however, took a lot longer to bear fruit – or veg – than expected, not least the process of striving for perfection so that the TomTato could be sold commercially.
Following the inevitable ups and downs of trial and error, T & M hit on a method of using a potato variety that produced the right sized shoot so that the two veg could be joined together in perfect "wedded bliss".
Production starts in a specialist laboratory in Holland where the delicate grafting routine takes place. Plants are then shipped back to the UK and grown on under glass until they are large enough to be sold.
As for the finished item, TomTatoes can be grown inside or out, in a patio pot or 40-litre bag, on the allotment or on a more modest veg patch.
Paul Hansord recalled: "At the start we thought it would just be a novelty thing to do. But as the trials developed we realised what we had produced was really high-yield, had fantastic flavour and could be done commercially for the first time. You really have to grow TomTato to believe it."
The paintstaking side of TomTato's creation sees a piece of tissue the size of a pinhead sliced from each plant, checked for viruses and grown separately in gel and, latter, compost.
Once 2in high, the stems are cut at an identical angle so they can be grafted to each other.
This process takes about a week, after which a natural fusing forms.
Now comes the acid test: will customers crave this extraordinary double veg or will they – with typical British caution – hang back to await further success stories?
Watch this space!
T & M are sellling 3.5in plants from next spring for £14.99 each or two for £29.98 plus one free. Check thompson–morgan.com or call 0844 5731818.