I consider myself spoilt because I have just had that very thought: ‘That was a flavourless tomato!’ And my thoughts wander back to the rugged mountainsides of Las Alpujarras, in southern Spain, where in summer time the tomatoes will be encouraged up their network of wires, striving for perfection in colour, size and flavour. Having recently returned from a walking holiday in Las Alpujarras I have become appreciative of where my tomatoes come from. A holiday in Andalucía revealed a very fertile agricultural region, dedicated to the growing of fantastic cherry tomatoes, high above the Mediterranean and in the lee of the Sierra Nevada. The good news for British tourists is that these beautiful tomatoes are exported to the UK.
The Andalusían Moors were responsible for the ancient irrigation system that took the best advantage of this fertile soil in Las Alpujarras, Andalucía. They introduced new techniques of raising river-water, with the use of the noria, an Eastern type of water wheel, most commonly a vertical water wheel which was slung with a chain of buckets. The Moors were quick to harness the reliable supply of water running off the Sierra Nevada with the use of norias and irrigation channels. There is evidence as early as 961 AD in the Calendar of Córdoba, written by the Mozarabic bishop Rabi Ben, of soil-analysis, times to plough, plant, irrigate and harvest. These ancient agricultural practices, in combination with the fact that the valleys of the western Alpujarras are among the most fertile in Spain, has led to a rich abundance of fruit trees. Today grape vines, lemons, figs almonds, persimmons and oranges are all grown.
In 1567, Philip II, issued a royal decree ending all toleration of ‘Moorish’ ways in an attempt to either provoke a rebellion or have the complete assimilation and loyalty of the Moors. Following this decree and subsequent rebellion of the Alpujarras Moors, in 1568, most of the Moorish population were evicted from the Alpujarras region. That is with the exception of two Moorish families per village who were retained in order to teach the new inhabitants how to operate the terracing and irrigations systems that they had expertly introduced and maintained for hundreds of years.
Little has changed today due to the steepness of the Alpujarras terrain and the fact that modern agriculture is still unsuited to this area; so tomato cultivation has excelled in the small fields and is an essential income of the region. This has also helped maintain ‘turismo rural Andalucía’ as tourists enjoying walking holidays in Andalucía are quick to appreciate that traditional agricultural methods have helped preserve the beautiful Las Alpujarras region.
So back to that original tomato without the flavour: I suggest you check the country of origin on the label. What you are looking for is ‘red, juicy, cherry tomatoes, vine ripened on the south-facing mountainsides of Las Alpujarras, nestled under the Sierra Nevada, Spain’. If you can’t see that on the label then I suggest you come and pick your own and combine it with a superb walking holiday in Las Alpujarras hosted by Hotel Los Bérchules!