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Who Or What Was Ailsa Craig?

Waiting my turn at the dentist recently I was surprised when they called the name of the next patient. “Ailsa Craig” was not however my expected shiny red tomato but a very smartly dressed woman. I wonder how many other waiting patients thought the same as me? Or were they perhaps thinking Scottish islands and onions?

Ailsa Craig is a small granite island, renowned for birds and wildlife. Situated at the mouth of the Clyde the island is believed by some to be the “plug” from a long extinct volcano. The source of granite for most of the world’s curling stones and home to 700 gannets, it bears absolutely no resemblance to either a tomato or an onion. So, how come the three share a name?

Tomato Ailsa Craig

The origin of this reliable and much-loved variety is vague however the consensus seems to be that it was introduced in 1908 by Alan Balch. Mr Balch lived on the Moray Firth, a long way from the Clyde. However, at around the same time the first motor yacht, Ailsa Craig was receiving much publicity. The yacht won the Bermuda Power Boat race in both 1907 and 1908. So, it seems likely that Tomato Ailsa Craig was named not after the island but after a yacht. Which in turn was no doubt named after the island!

Being of Scottish origin Tomato Ailsa Craig is tough, reliable and an early cropper.

Onion Ailsa Craig

Now this was definitely named after the island! It was developed back in 1887 by David Murray, head gardener at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. Now a hotel, Cuzean Castle once belonged to descendants of Robert the Bruce. The impressive building overlooks the Firth of Clyde and has fine views of, you’ve guessed it, Ailsa Craig!

Onion Ailsa Craig was marketed back in 1885 by John Sutton & Son, founders of Suttons and is a large mild flavoured variety.

So next time I hear the name Ailsa Craig called out I won’t know whether to expect an onion, tomato, island or a motor yacht. Or perhaps just the same smartly dressed woman. As the youngest of them all I wonder which she was named after?

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2 thoughts on “Who Or What Was Ailsa Craig?”

  1. Brenda Balch says:

    My grandfather, Alan Balch, was living in Girvan when he first bred the Ailsa Craig tomato. He moved to Forres in Moray later. So the tomato is named after the island. My grandmother’s maiden name was Girvan. She was born there and the family was involved in the quarrying of granite on Ailsa Craig for the curling stones. There was no yacht involved I can assure you.
    Brenda Balch

  2. Linda Laird says:

    Thanks so much for the clarification. I just bought some “Ailsa Craig” onion plants, which I hope will be tough enough to do well in Colorado Springs, at 6,700 ft. I didn’t know about the tomato variety, or the curling stone quarry, or the island. I thought Ailsa was a person, perhaps related to the early 20thC artist Edward Gordon Craig, who was also one of Isadora Duncan’s lovers. It all connects, right?

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