06 Jul2014


Fabulous. If you turn the clock back just 10, no, even 5 years ago and you said, “Marketman, can I get 3 kilos of fantastic organically grown heirloom tomatoes of varying types AND at the exact same time 10 dozen roses raised the old-fashioned way and which even had some real fragrance to boot and not break the bank?” I would have said “No way, Jose (or Maria), no can do.” But that was then, and these tomatoes and roses are now. Thank you Nico at DowntoEarth for doing what you are doing.


It was only three years ago, that reader Myra P informed me that DowntoEarth would begin selling their produce at the Salcedo market. I was there on their first day, and I bought practically a third of their stocks! See my old post, here. The proprietor, Nico Aberasturi and I have spoken on several occasions since, and his passion for his produce is infectious. Over the past three years, his business has grown, and their produce, that is mostly airfreighted from a farm in Bukidnon, is something I always look forward to. Along with Gejo of Malipayon Farms, Nacho from Toscana, My suki Mary, from Benguet, and other purveyors, I get great veggies I couldn’t have dreamed off just 10 years ago.


While driving down Yakal Street one day, I noticed signs for DowntoEarth’s new retail (and office) space near the end of the street, and while its apparently been there for months, I had never visited it. I dropped by and by chance Nico was around and we spoke and he gushed about heirloom tomatoes so I went home with a kilo of the precious commodity. I placed an order for June 30, Monday and got 3 kilos of heirlooms and 10 dozen roses. It was Mrs. MM’s birthday dinner the following night, and we had a quiet dinner for just 9 guests total at home.


The tomatoes were packed in a box, with individual partitions, to prevent bruising. Back at home, I let the tomatoes ripen overnight placed stem down as I noticed that’s what Nico’s staff were doing. Laid out on a wooden bread board, they looked like a million bucks. Mind you, they aren’t cheap, but they are worth every centavo of the PHP400 per kilo premium price they charge.


Some of our crew thought I was a bit mental, reveling in the odd shapes, the erratic sizes, the weird colors. But that’s precisely what I was hoping for from a batch of heirloom tomatoes. Revisit this old post I wrote on an heirloom tomato salad I made in San Francisco 4 years ago while on a visit with friends.


And the roses, just look at those colors. It’s hard to describe them other than a riot of nature. Natural colors, a bit schizophrenic and unpredictable. I don’t normally go so colorful, but just wait till you seem them on the table…



  1. Marichu says:

    Do heirloom tomatoes mean native tomatoes? Or is heirloom a type of tomato like roma or cherry? I’m confused because those are the exact same tomatoes I see at the farmers’ markets here in California.

    Jul 6, 2014 | 10:01 am


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  3. Marketman says:

    Marichu, from Wikipedia “An heirloom tomato (also called heritage tomato in the UK) is an open-pollinated (non-hybrid) heirloom cultivar of tomato.” The seeds for Nico’s heirlooms came from the U.S., are extremely pricey, and are apparently very tricky to grow here. So these are relatives of the ones you have there.

    In the Philippines, we have similar “heirloom” designated tomatoes or native ones, but they don’t look like this, nor taste like these. But they have their own nice qualities as well. I have a posts on some, here, here and here.

    Jul 6, 2014 | 10:06 am

  4. Mila says:

    Those are glorious tomatoes. How do the green ones hold up as pickles or fried?
    MM, on another note I’m finally getting to try zubuchon here in cebu while on a short trip home. Sunday brunch of monggo with zubuchon and lamayo, with a glass of kamias. And a fresh zubuchon just arrived as i walked in, serendipity is with me today.

    Jul 6, 2014 | 11:34 am

  5. Khew says:

    The ‘black’ tomato looks intriguing. Reminds me of purple carrots.

    Jul 6, 2014 | 12:26 pm

  6. Marketman says:

    Mila, good grief, why didn’t you email me, I am in Cebu as I type this to inspect the harrowing last few weeks of a new branch opening in Mactan, I could have dropped by to say hello! The green tomato is in fact ripe, and delicious. Khew, it’s a dark dark green black and it was really good.

    Jul 6, 2014 | 3:52 pm

  7. Junb says:

    lovely tomatoes! I can just eat them as it is or a fried fish and sea salt with a steaming hot rice !!!!

    Jul 6, 2014 | 5:23 pm

  8. Footloose says:

    Brings to mind Sarah Vaughan’s rendition of a Brazilian song (it’s on Youtube if you want to hear her voice and the beautiful tune): Roses and roses, I thank you for saying the things that we could not say, oh what a wonderful way, to tell you I love you each day.

    The heirloom tomatoes makes me wonder how BettyQ is faring with this year’s crop and whether there had been enough moisture so her chanterelles could mushroom on the forest floor.

    Jul 6, 2014 | 8:02 pm

  9. Footloose says:

    Not needing any translation, Andy William’s version is even more touching:

    Jul 6, 2014 | 8:12 pm

  10. Betchay says:

    Belated happy birthday Mrs. MM!!! The roses are gorgeous especially the two- toned ones and I could imagine the fragrance….hmmmmmm!
    @Footloose: what a romantic song!

    I was out of touch for a while…now I have to do some backreading! :)

    Jul 6, 2014 | 10:39 pm

  11. betty q. says:



    Heeeelllooooo! I am doing very well, thank you! In the process of harvesting 27 varieties of garlic…all plump, disease free! My problem now is to find hanging space to cure 664 bulbs of garlic most of which to be given away to close friends, neighbours, and relatives.

    My 25 varieties of all heirloom tomatoes are all doing good as well…thanks to the very warm weather we had and placed under hoop houses and growing tips from a commercial heirloom grower here in Port Moody. She is what I call an expert, saving seeds and have over 4,000 varieties of tomatoes. I have learned whole kaboodle from her regarding different varieties, how they fare in our climate and such. She has varieties, names of which are totally alien to me. But one thing I learned from her is those that have Russian names tend to fare very well here in BC both in taste and growth habits.

    She has 1 variety that I am sure you will be pleased to receive…remember your Peter peppers? The tomatoes look exactly the same! MM, I can send seeds of those tomatoes if Gejo, Nacho or Nick are interested or in any heirloom tomatoes they do not have yet.

    if only you are close by, you will be one of my recipients! The tomatoes should ripen by early August and garlic finished curing by fall. Your eyes will pop out at the size of my garlic bulbs…and no, they are not GMO!!!! I have concocted a magic brew that they seem to like and it is made with all natural, organic ingredients!

    However, if this warm weather continues all through August or early September, not enough rain means a dry mushroom spell!….not good!

    Jul 6, 2014 | 11:43 pm

  12. Marketman says:

    betty, OMG, garlic in Manila and Cebu is now upwards of $8 a KILO! 6-7x the normal price due to production shortages and problems with imports.

    And those tomatoes, I would be ecstatic if I could grow even just three kinds of tomatoes! Western heirlooms are so hard to grow in the Philippines due to the weather conditions and possibly the type of soil as well. Nico has spent two years figuring out how to raise them and is still struggling with small crops. I think the variance in daytime to nighttime temperatures isn’t big enough and perhaps the bugs are hard to keep at bay. I have to remember to schedule a trip to your neck of the woods in August or so when your tomatoes should be utterly spectacular!

    Jul 6, 2014 | 11:55 pm

  13. Nacho says:

    MM, If there are people willing to pay P400/ kilo for Heirloom tomatoes, I would be willing to look into growing them. I just never thought there would be a market for them at those prices. I should probably start looking into it again.

    Jul 7, 2014 | 2:42 am

  14. Debbie says:

    Happy 50th birthday Mrs. MM! MM, the roses are gorgeous!

    BettyQ, you should post pictures of your heirloom tomatoes! I planted some last year but didn’t fare well since it didn’t get enough sun. This year, I tried planting them in pots and moved them to a spot where there’s lots of sun during the day, have 6 varieties growing well. I love heirloom tomatoes, use them for salads, with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil!

    Jul 7, 2014 | 3:23 am

  15. Footloose says:

    @Debbie, BettyQ, you should post pictures of your heirloom tomatoes!

    Not the ones that look like peter peppers though; I doubt whether those would be condoned in this here blog. I’m just curious though whether they are a product of natural selection or genetic engineering at the Muppets’ adult labs?

    Jul 7, 2014 | 4:46 am

  16. Marketman says:

    Footloose, hahaha, for you, photos of tomatoes like peter peppers will be welcomed. And yes, betty, would love to see a photo of the garden and tomatoes! Nacho, I think the high end restaurants would definitely be willing to consider heirlooms even at those prices. Wait till you see how they look on a serving platter.

    Jul 7, 2014 | 5:57 am

  17. Junb says:

    happy Birthday Mrs MM…. Heirlooms tomatoes here in Singapore are around P1000/kilo and not much choices. If Philippines can produce its own version there’s definitely a market if not local then overseas where organic are dominated by thailand and Australia.

    Jul 7, 2014 | 7:08 am

  18. Junb says:

    betty Q, I can’t wait to see your farm! Please do share some photos :)

    Jul 7, 2014 | 7:15 am

  19. Footloose says:

    Could it be that they are called heirloom tomatoes because you need a bank loan to buy them and then your debt gets passed down to your heirs and successors?

    Jul 7, 2014 | 9:47 am

  20. myra_p says:

    @Nacho, you can do it!

    @Marketman, these organic roses were the precursor of all their edible/culinary flowers. I use them ALL THE TIME, and most recently for a bridal fair where everyone thought they were either fake or dyed.

    I love telling them it’s local and organic :)

    Jul 7, 2014 | 9:54 am

  21. ConnieC says:

    Happy 50th Mrs. MM!!!

    Footloose, thanks for the Andy Williams link….gives life and meaning to the flowers that MM got for Mrs. MM and it made me swoon!

    Oh betty Q. what a crying shame that our schedules don’t jive and we won’t see each other in Vancouver. Anyway, I decided not to make a stopover when you weren’t going to be in town. I could have been a courier for your garden produce. But honestly, I cannot imagine how you can raise hundred varieties of tomatoes, garlic and what nots, but then it is bettyQ!!! No wonder you hardly have time to comment.

    Jul 7, 2014 | 11:05 am

  22. betty q. says:

    Footloose…The peter tomato is called Auria from the Ukraine and it is OP…no GMO! if you google it, my friend Tatiana, has a picture of it. Had I known she had seeds for those, I would have asked her for some! if anyone cares to plant it, I can ask her for seeds! For sure, it will be on my list for next year.

    Jul 7, 2014 | 2:22 pm

  23. Nicolo, DowntoEarth says:

    Thank you Marketman! It’s been a tough two years testing and finally successfully growing these demanding heirloom tomatoes! They were quite complicated to grow, that’s probably why they are so tasteful! We also love the whimsical and odd shapes, and the colors are quite a treat! And so they were worth the 2 years of backbreaking trial and error.
    Our flowers are doing very well this year. It is also difficult to grow them to size organically, but the colors, the vase life, and the scents are worth all the trouble. Thank you for showing them off!

    And please greet Mrs. Marketman a Happy Birthday from us at DowntoEarth.

    Jul 7, 2014 | 2:54 pm

  24. bakerwannabe says:

    Happy Birthday Mrs. MM. God bless. I planted some heirloom tomatoes in pots. They are starting to flower. Hopefully we will get some good tomatoes by September.

    Jul 8, 2014 | 12:06 am

  25. Footloose says:

    Being an unabashed aficionado of suggestively formed fruit, vegetables and root crops, I lost no time in Googling Auria tomatoes from the Ukraine as BettyQ suggested. Here’s what I found: the shape does look vaguely like Adam’s at the Sistine chapel or even David’s at the galleria dell’accademia but it remains languid and green as it ripens so it is nowhere near Peter pepper’s fiery confident oven-readiness. Nor as funny cute as this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amiko/9336813/

    Jul 9, 2014 | 12:20 am

  26. psychomom says:

    Happy Birthday Mrs.MM!

    Jul 9, 2014 | 2:18 am

  27. kurzhaar says:

    One should always store tomatoes unrefrigerated, and stem-end down because the “shoulders” of the fruit ripen last, and are less prone to bruising. Flavour has been found to be correlated with late-ripening shoulders. The black tomatoes, in particular, tend to have late-ripening shoulders, and these are among the tastiest of all tomatoes, with an interesting savoury or salty hint. One should harvest before rain, or not immediately after watering (if you water), to avoid dilution of flavor.

    I have grown something in the order of a hundred heirloom (or. more accurately, open-pollinated) varieties at this point, and one has to figure out which ones do well under different soil and weather conditions. Some require more days to ripen on the plant, some do not like damp weather, some are quite vulnerable to viruses or other pests. Some are green when ripe, others have insides that look tie-dyed, some are fuzzy like a peach! The diversity of type is fascinating, even when a plant fails for whatever reason. This season I have only ten varieties.

    Nicolo and others, you may want to look into Mexican varieties as many of those are adapted to hot/humid temperatures.

    And although I enjoy my OP varieties, I want to point out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a hybrid tomato, which is how most if not all OP varieties originate…”heirloom” makes it sound kind of romantic but quite a number of varieties known as “heirlooms” come from commercial or academic tomato breeders and were not handed down from someone’s great-grandpa! Too many people look down or denigrate hybrid tomatoes for lacking taste–but lack of flavour is almost always not the fault of the seed, but of the methods of growing or harvesting. Many hybrids are successes because they bring together good traits (including great flavor) from both parent plants. The only disadvantage is that plants grown from seed saved from hybrid fruit will not usually be true to type–basic Mendelian genetics at work. However, breeders will often breed a hybrid’s offspring for several generations to try and obtain a stable cross which is then reproducible by OP. This is how varieties like Speckled Roman or Ananas noir were developed.

    Jul 9, 2014 | 6:55 am

  28. Marketman says:

    kurzhaar, thanks for that, and yes, I agree hybrids, if properly grown and harvested ripe or near ripe can be superb. A few posts ago I featured hybrid tomatoes from Nacho of Toscana farms and they were fabulous as well. My parents used to have a massive vegetable garden beside our home when I was goring up (though I killed anything I touched) and they had the most amazing crop of hybrid tomatoes one year, almost the size of apples, a totally unusual sight in the Philippines in the mid-70’s. We kept giving away baskets of the tomatoes to stunned friends and neighbors until we eventually ran out…

    Jul 9, 2014 | 7:19 am

  29. Footloose says:

    @Kurzhaar, Nicolo and others, you may want to look into Mexican varieties as many of those are adapted to hot/humid temperatures.

    Makes a lot of sense, cultivars from Mexico which aside from sitting in roughly the same latitude, is actually where all those tomatoes originated anyway, as part of the great Columbian Exchange that took place in the wake of Christopher stumbling upon the New World. It was an uneven swap, the rest of the world got tomatoes, potatoes, peanuts, chocolate, maize, chili and other sundry fruits while the poor indians got wiped out by European diseases against which the indians did not have any immunity. The jury is still out on whether they got even with the Old World by giving it syphilis.

    Btw, the bulk of tomatoes we get here in Canada are grown in Mexico using the same durable hybrids developed for American agribusiness and engineered for long shelf life and resistant flesh and skin that withstand the rigours of handling and transport. No way around growing them yourself or living close by a friend like BettyQ.

    Jul 10, 2014 | 12:21 am

  30. Kasseopeia says:

    Nacho: more tomatoes, more fun! Please grow them na!!! I passed by Toscana’s stall on Saturday morning and picked up some large (beefsteak?) tomatoes to snack on whilst on a weekend break at Tali Beach. Yum, as always!

    Glad to know DownToEarth is on Yakal now! Is it that commercial complex where Ultimate Impact used to be? (Where the CrossFit place is). Funny, I grew up next to Aberasturis in my childhood home in CDO. Relatives of Nico’s?

    Jul 10, 2014 | 12:35 pm

  31. angelo says:

    why can’t i find roses in DowntoEarth website?

    Jul 10, 2014 | 10:02 pm

  32. Marketman says:

    angelo, I think they JUST updated their website (so snazzy now) and flowers seem to be missing (they are a subsidiary). So just give them a call and I am sure they can help you.

    Jul 11, 2014 | 7:52 am


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