What is a Creole Tomato?
New Orleanians know they are thick meaty juicy red tomato that they wait for every summer. I think that snow balls and Creole tomatoes help us survive the long miserable summer in the city. Lots of people wait for that first batch of vine-ripened Creole tomatoes and buy them by the box.
The first box of ripe and ready Creole tomatoes right off the farm is sometimes famously offered at a public auction to local chefs. The auction was held in the French Market for decades and became a feature of June's Creole Tomato Festival in the heart of the French Quarter.
The auction was neglected after Hurricane Katrina, but it was reinstated a couple of years ago to raise money for Children's Hospital. The high bid donation is always over $1000.
Creole tomatoes are also grown in backyards, and even in patio pots, in New Orleans and its outskirts. There's no better way to make friends with your neighbors than a gift of a few Creole tomatoes right off the vine.
Creole tomatoes range in size from medium to huge. Unlike some smooth round top of some tomatoes at the supermarket, Creole tomatoes usually have crowns – proof that they are tomato royalty! The ridges making these crowns can be subtle or deep.
To me the best Creole tomatoes are wide, squat and very big. Sometimes there is superficial cracking at along the bumpy crown. They seem to be ready to burst out of their skin with flavor. Sometimes these big ones little like small heirloom pumpkins. When you slice it for a sandwich, the tomato slice is bigger than the bread. It is absolutely perfect for a Creole tomato sandwich.
A Creole tomato is so rich and flavorful that it hardly seems related to those pale shipped-in tomatoes at the supermarket.
Yep, they are great tomatoes and you can only get a true vine-ripened Creole tomato in south Louisiana. But, what makes a Creole tomato - Creole?
Basically, if it is grown here and it looks, smells, and tastes like a Creole tomato, it’s a Creole tomato. There is no required pedigree or cultivar type. The LSU Agricultural Center developed a type of tomato named "Creole”, but it is no longer maintained by the Center. And it was never the standard or the only plant that produced Creole tomatoes.
Nowadays, some plants are sold with Creole in their name, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are descendants, via seeds or cuttings, of this old LSU breed.
Great creole tomatoes have actually always been grown from a variety of tomato species. They don't have to be heirloom tomatoes or expensive brands.
Many tomato cultivars have the DNA to look, taste, and smell like the Creole tomatoes we all know and love. But they have to be grown in the unique conditions of the south Louisiana river parishes to grow up to be a real Creole tomato. It’s apparently the climate and the soil. That’s the consensus and expectation of the meaning of the term Creole tomato.
Now that you know a Creole tomato does not come from any particular type of plant, you might be surprised to learn that the official Louisiana State Vegetable Plant is the Creole tomato. (OK, maybe you are not that surprised that such a statute passed the Louisiana legislature.) Not only isn’t there a specific plant that could be called THE Creole tomato plant being honored, the statute also opens up the whole tomato vegetable v. fruit debate.
I speculate that Louisiana Revised Statute 170.11 was just a political compromise between the Creole tomato farmers and the sweet potato farmers. In the same statute, the sweet potato is named the Louisiana state vegetable.
Creole tomatoes are available generally by early June at area farmer markets, roadside stands, and even urban grocery stores all over New Orleans.
If you want to grow your own Creole tomatoes, seeds and transplants are readily available at virtually every garden shop and even some grocery stores. These are some of the recommended tomato varieties that can grow up to be Creole tomatoes: Celebrity, Better Boy, Fantastic, Monte Carlo, Bingo, Big Beer, and Sunleaper.
RECIPES: Check out these Creole Tomato Recipes by top Chefs and restaurants in New Orleans.