If you adore home-made tomato sauce (or if you grew up with Italians from South Philadelphia and call it “gravy” ), you should grow the Rei Umberto (also known as King Humbert) tomato.
It is just that simple. When I was given a list of possible tomatoes to grow out in 2015 for the Roughwood Seed Collection and saw this one was on the list, it was the first one I picked.
I’ve grown this tomato before and it’s everything an Italian sauce tomato should be — full-flavored, easy to deseed, enthusiatic grower and did I mention it makes wonderful sauce?
I picked the first tomatoes about a week ago, but was too busy eating to write a blog post. Ripe Rei Umberto tomatoes look like this:
On the plant, the green tomatoes look like this. Italian cuisine is all about the ripe tomato, so these tomatoes don’t linger in the green stage for very long.
Here’s what William Woys Weaver has to say about this tomato from the Roughwood Seed Collection:
“Rei Umberto otherwise known as King Humbert, was named in honor of the King of Italy when the tomato was first introduced at the Paris Expo in 1878. It was developed in Naples by an Austrian-owned seed company and has been considered ever since THE CLASSIC Italian paste tomato. No one has improved its shape or flavor. The irony of this story is that the King of Italy did not like Italian cooking (he was from Savoy, preferred only French cooking and Barolo wines), so the big question remains, was the tomato created to convert him to Italian-style cooking with tomato sauce, or did he just nod and mutter excellent, and return to his French menus with one eyebrow raised?”
When growing this tomato, give it lots of space and think about how you are going to support its very enthusiatic growth! This is not one of those “all leaves and a tomato or two” heirlooms — Rei Umberto will produce lots of tomatoes so that you can fill your pantry shelves with high-quality, homemade tomato sauce, but it will do so by producing the leaves and stems needed for such a prodigious output. Here’s how our Rei Umbertos look in the field:
You can barely see the Florida Weave on these tomatoes, but that’s only because the plants have grown up around it. If you stake or cage your tomatoes, reserve your strongest stakes and biggest cages for this tomato — it will repay you handsomely in sauce and is worth making the effort.