Fred Rohrmoser's sister-in-law, Kerstin Fowler, holds one of the Rohrmosers' giant Abruzzi tomatoes. SUPPLIED

Vast vegetables fruits spawn informal contest

Botanically speaking, tomatoes are fruits because they form from a flower and contain seeds. But from a culinary perspective, everyone informally calls them a vegetable.

However you choose to classify them, they are growing huge in Pelham, and have germinated a competition amongst family and friends.

It’s a story that has its roots in the old country.

Storm Hair Group proprietor Michael DeProphetis told the Voice that his father came to Canada in the early 1960s from the Abruzzo region of Italy, east of Rome. He brought with him seeds that he had collected over the years from the biggest tomatoes in his garden. DeProphetis inherited the tomato plants and the super-seeds, and grew plants on his porch as a tribute to his dad. Ultimately, he decided to offer some of the plants to his green-thumbed clients.

Deborah Rohrmoser of Balfour Street was one such salon regular.

As her husband Fred relates the tale, she came home from the hairdresser a few years ago in the middle of July with two rather dried-out little tomato plants. It was late in the season, but Fred planted them anyway. And they immediately grew like crazy.

Deborah and Fred Rohrmoser and their oversize tomatoes. DON RICKERS

“I got some nice tomatoes about the middle of September. They were beautiful, and the taste was tremendous,” said Fred. “I hadn’t ever tasted tomatoes anywhere near as good. So I saved the seed. And then last year, I grew more than 50 plants, and I had some tomatoes weighing almost three pounds.”

This year, Fred planted again from last year’s seed. He gave some seed to his brother-in-law, sister, daughter, and friends in Fenwick. They all grew large tomatoes that drew rave reviews. He even gave some of the original plants to Michael DeProphetis.

Someone came up with an idea to have a friendly competition, to weigh their biggest tomatoes, and share the photos over email. Thus was born the Great Fenwick Tomato Challenge, which currently includes almost a dozen participants.

“It’s all about the genetics of the plant,” said Fred. “They are a heritage seed and they produce the same year after year because they are not a hybrid.”

Fred’s brother-in-law Doug said that the tomato plants in his garden cling to an eight-foot long rebar post, and reach the top. Fred’s sister displayed a photo of her top tomato weighing 3.22 pounds, with a 20-inch circumference.

Typically, tomatoes weigh something in the range of six to 12 ounces.

A pair of tomatoes coming in at a bit over two pounds each adorn the Rohrmoser kitchen counter, dwarfing a bowl of fingerling potatoes, also a product of their garden. The retired couple have been on Balfour for 26 years.

Deborah noted that their fulsome fruits are named Storm Tomatoes, in tribute to the hairdressing salon where it all started.

In case you might be thinking that the Rohrmosers should be on the phone to the folks at Guinness Book of World Records, you should know that a couple from Clinton, New York, grew a tomato last year that weighed 9.65 pounds. They named it “Wilson the Slammer.”