We thought it was probably well beyond time to do an update on our search for the Wallasey tomato. If you’ll recall in March this year we sent out a call for information on the fabled plant. In the back of our minds was the hope against hope that there might be some seeds knocking around somewhere that could provide the basis for a local varieties seed swap this autumn.
Hearing about our search artist James Brady put up a request for information on the Wallasey Memories Facebook Group who generously shared what they remembered about the tomato.
Who grew the tomatoes?
Back in the day of course many folks in Wallasey ate the famous locally grown tomato. The special toms were grown at the nurseries on Leasowe Road mainly by two market garden families: the Cross and the Websters. In fact the Cross garden centre still exists.
There were also a couple of other smaller-scale market gardeners growing the tomatoes in Wallasey Village: Les Jones who was located between St. John’s Road and an area known as the Big Yard, and a chap called Sparks who was based on Wallasey Village Road close to the Farmers Arms pub and other growers such as Richard Ashcroft, the Westcotts and the Freemans.
These market gardens on Leasowe Road were operational from 1930s to 1970s (and probably earlier than 1930 actually).
What made them taste so good?
We’ve heard some great stories about people’s memories of the taste of these tomatoes. One person remembered climbing up on to the kitchen work table to get at the tomatoes hidden in the top cupboard. This was also where the biscuits were hidden, but apparently the tomatoes were the first to go.
According to James there were a few theories about the amazing taste:
The distinctive taste of the Wallasey Tomato was attributed to the rich soil on the edge of the Wirral peninsula. The soil is so alluvial, some local people say that apparently the growers could produce four crop yields each season! However, apparently there is also a well known rumour that another reason for the distinctive taste was due the pigs blood that some growers used as part of their fertiliser mix. There was certainly a piggery in Wallasey Village and so that may very well have been the source. Though apparently farmers also used cow’s blood from the Birkenhead abattoir.
Another suggestion was that:
The unique flavour of the tomato was in part due to the water table in Leasowe being salt water due to its proximity to the sea. The tomatoes were therefore being fed constant salt which would make them taste extra salty. Apparently the tide causes the water table to rise up to a mile inland in the low lying parts of Wallasey village.
And most important of all..
What variety was used?
Cavendish Perfection was certainly one of the varieties of the famous Wallasey Tomato.
Some recent digging about the Cavendish Perfection shows that there have been a couple of people looking for them on various forums and apparently seeds have been found, grown and taste tested. You can read these great threads here and here to find out more.
Special thanks to artist James Brady and members of the Wallasey Memories group on Facebook