Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium (Currant tomato)
The world's tiniest tomato has got to be Alberto's Shattering Currant! It's the size of a garden pea. The species is often considered different than the conventional garden tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum which means "savory wolf peach", but they easily cross with one another and are functionally, variations of the same species.
Alberto Vasquez whose name I gave to the shattering currant, was an early member of the Seed Savers Exchange formed by Kent Whealy in the 1970's. In the annual yearbook, Alberto wrote that he was looking for seeds of Rat-Tail Radish. Well, I was just back from the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Summer Conference where there was a guy selling seed of the Rat-Tail Radish out of a sack. I think he got the seeds from India. I bought a couple of tablespoons of seed. This must have been around 1980. I grew the seeds in the greenhouse at the college where I worked. The seed pods were truly like a rat's tail (unlike some rat-tails sold today), over a foot long, pencil thin and mostly deep purple in color. Very impressive. But that's another rambling. Alberto from Virginia (if my memory serves me) would trade me seeds of his currant tomato for rat-tail seeds. Done.
Alberto had two types of currant tomatoes, one that shattered it's fruit (drops to the ground when ripe) and another that holds the fruit. He sent me the seed of both and I grew large seed crops. I sold both types for many years and companies who got the seed from me also sold the two kinds for a while. I've noted though that the one that drops it's fruit isn't in commerce anymore.
Why, people ask me, would you want a currant tomato that drops it's fruit? Why indeed! The labor involved with picking currant tomatoes for market is considerable. We developed a technique though, of planting the shattering currant tomatoes on mounds with landscape cloth sloping downward from the base of the plants. Shake the bushes every couple of days and scoop up the tomatoes that roll down to the base of the cloth. So simple.
While the currant tomato is a crunchy sack of seed offering a nice texture to salads, flavor is not where they excel. In fact, before the currant tomato was reintroduced into commerce as an heirloom variety (after an absence of maybe 75 years or so), it was most often grown by 19th century gardeners and used to make a fruit jam.
Currant Tomato Crosses
The currant crosses is a group of small cherry tomatoes with currant tomatoes in their parentage. A diverse group indeed, they can be found in many colors and tend to be the tomatoes that excite my palate. Grow currants next to a modern high brix cherry tomato and then save the seeds and savor. Currant tomatoes have an emergent stigma that will collect any available pollen an insect happens to bring, very much like the heirloom potato-leaf tomatoes that have the same tendency to outcross.
In fact, many cherry tomatoes obtain their long truss characteristics from L. pimpinellifolium. These trusses can be a foot long and contain dozens of tiny tomatoes. The true currant tomato comes from the coastal region from Ecuador into Peru and has some inherent variation. The currants that I've grown are generally rampant sprawlers with wirey vines that take off when the weather becomes hottest. Currant crosses can have the same kinds of characteristics or not. Many of the crosses we develop here at FBF are unintentional. The currants and currant crosses reseed (zone 7) and we let many grow to sample and simply select our favorites.