There have been a lot of debates over the humble tomato throughout history. Most commonly, pronunciation; “I say tom-ah-to, you say tom-ay-to.” 

Then there’s the great fruit vs vegetable debate. Does it have to decide or can it just be settled for being confused? Good ol’ tomato likes to be fruity AND veg out sometimes, okay?! 

Tomato Festival - high resImage: Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

Not so well known is the debate that focused on whether or not the tomato was deadly poisonous. Of course, we know it’s not now. But for around 200 years, the poor old tomato suffered with an evil reputation; known as the “poison apple.” In the late 1700s, Europeans feared the little red fruit/vegetable, believing it to be responsible for causing illness and death in aristocrats. 

As it turns out, it was the plates they were served on that were the real source of the problem. Wealthy Europeans had the luxury of pewter plates, which, unfortunately for them, had a fair amount of lead in them too. The high acidity of the tomato drew the lead out, and it was in fact lead poisoning that caused all the problems. 

Obviously it escaped their notice that it was only the rich, pewter-endowed upper class that suffered the wrath of the evil tomato, but then, they clearly had more important things to worry about. Like finding fancy utensils and shiny metal plates to display their enormous wealth and class. 

Another factor that didn’t help the so-called poison apple’s reputation is that it comes from the family solanaceae, which is the nightshade family. And what do we know about nightshade? It can be deadly, that’s what. However, the nightshade family, as we now know, is not all poison and death. As well as the tomato, other non-hazardous family members of the solanaceae include the eggplant, potato and capsicum. The moral of the story here is that you clearly can’t judge one fruit/vegetable by its few evil family members.

Tomato festival 088Image: Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

The tomato won back some favour with the invention of the pizza (thank you, Italy!) in Naples in the 1800s, leading to more widespread usage. The French, purveyors of all things romance, called the tomato pommel d’amour, or “love apple”, as it was believed to be have aphrodisiac powers. There’s nothing more romantic than taking a big bite of a squishy, juicy tomato… How do you like them [love] apples?

What could be more of an aphrodisiac than a whole festival of love apples? For lovers of tomatoes, or just lovers, The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney are holding the Tomato Festival Sydney on Saturday the 14th and Sunday the 15th of February to celebrate all things tomato. 

The festival will feature a pop-up bar and cafe, local and organic produce stalls, degustation luncheon, free workshops and guided tours, and a talk on heirlooms by Founder and Chairman of the Diggers Club Clive Blazey. It is a family friendly event with activities for kids like hunting down ingredients in the garden and using them to make their own pizzas.

ABC TV Gardening Australia presenter Costa Georgiadis, was a judge at last year’s inaugural Tomato Festival and will also be involved in this year’s festival in the free talks. 

Tomato festival 248Image: Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

To celebrate the little ol’ tomato, the Royal Botanic Gardens were kind enough to share a recipe for delicious tomato pasta sauce. Tomatoes and pasta are a match made in heaven, that’s amore!

Fail-Safe Tomato-Based Pasta Sauce
499 calories
109 g
0 g
5 g
22 g
1 g
2299 g
2472 g
64 g
0 g
3 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 499
Calories from Fat 39
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 5g
Saturated Fat 1g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 2472mg
Total Carbohydrates 109g
Dietary Fiber 29g
Sugars 64g
Protein 22g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 2kg ripe Roma tomatoes cut in half lengthways (skins on)
  2. 2 deep red capsicums, de-seeded and sliced into wide strips (skins on)
  3. 2-3 medium to large brown onions, skinned and sliced thickly
  4. 6 cloves of garlic, bruised
  5. olive oil (half a cup approximately to drizzle over tomatoes)
  6. sea salt (1 teaspoon)
  1. In a very large baking pan lay out the halved tomatoes, cut side facing up. You will need to lay some on top of others to fit them all into the dish.
  2. Next lay the capsicum and onion slices across the top.
  3. Drizzle over olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Bake in a slow oven – 150 ˚C to 160˚C (but don’t use the fan-forced setting). Make sure it is a setting suitable for slow-cooking fruit cakes etc. Bake for at least 2 to 2.5 hours. If you only have a fan-forced setting you may need to decrease the temp setting slightly.
  5. Once the tomatoes have gone a nice deep red, wait for them to cool just slightly and while warm put everything through the food mill into a large bowl.
  1. You will need a food mill to strain your sauce. However, if you don't have one readily available, you can alternatively put your ingredients in a food processor until mostly smooth, then press through a fine meshed strainer or sieve.
I Ate My Way Through
 The Tomato Festival runs from the 14th-15th February at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. For more information, program times and tickets for selected activities, visit


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