Marmande is an unpretentious town, not rich but not poor either, which is proud of its horticultural heritage. A trip to Marmande’s market on an average Saturday is a revelation. Seasonal food, minimal food miles, as little packaging as they can get away with and a quality and quantity of produce which most of us can only dream about.
Surprisingly the tomato arrived on European shores in the 16th century, it took a surprisingly long time for the French to embrace the vegetable. Unlike their Spanish and Italian neighbors who adopted the tomato quickly and used it frequently in their respective cuisines, the French remained wary of the New World import. Writing in 1803, France’s great food historian, Brillat-Savarin, noted, “This vegetable or fruit, as one may call it, was almost wholly unknown in Paris 15 years ago.”
Commercial production of the tomato began in France in the 1860s, a result of several significant synergistic factors. The most important was, undoubtedly, that phylloxera beetles that destroyed vineyards throughout France decimated huge swaths of the countryside. Wine growers became desperate, and many could not afford to wait to replant with phylloxera-resistent stock, so they took to planting their fields with tomatoes. Secondarily, the rail network developed allowing growers to get their products quickly to consumers, especially those in the large cities in the north. Finally, the invention of canning and pasteurization allowed for the commercial development of conserved foods.
Historically, most of the commercial production was located in the southeast of France, a region blessed with a dry, sunny Mediterranean climate. But in the more temperate and humid climate in the southwest of France, one name alone stood out namely Marmande.
Marmande produces 40,000 tons of the total French tomato crop. What many French consumers may not be aware of is that today 98 percent of the Marmande crop is grown under glass; of that, 75 percent of the plants are grown in soil-less conditions. The huge Perrinots Greenhouses in the southeast of Marmande, covering some 45 acres, are the center of modern Marmande production.
The Marmande above is from my Greenhouse in Mykonos Greece where I grow 45 varieties of tomatoes and has nothing to do with the region in France. The Marmande tomato is very juicy and tasty with a meaty quality that satisfies most.