2014-07-31 / From The Garden

Tomato Time!

By Cynthia Gibson

Many people discuss tomato plants and varieties that have produced well for them. That simply makes sense. But what about the losers in your tomato garden? Have you ever planted a tomato you did not like? I have.

We all have hopes of growing gigantic beefy tomatoes every summer; however, that will probably not happen this year due to the cool start to the summer. We should have ripe tomatoes by the end of August. Whether your plants went in at the end of May or in the second week in June, there appears to be little difference in growth at this point. Of the 15 different varieties I planted this season, I included one with the nifty mouth-watering name of “Steak Sandwich” – but it is currently just the size of a thumbnail.

Nowadays tomatoes are categorized in assorted ways, with many descriptions indicative of size. I suggest that you forget about size and focus on good taste. There are heirlooms; heritage varieties; early, mid-, and late-season; and gigantic, cherry, peach, plum, sweet, and currant sized versions from which to choose.

After much trial, error, and research by yours truly, I offer my thoughts to help in your tomato selection for next summer.

Black tomatoes are often unsuccessful crosses, taste mushy, and do not slice well. However, “Black Krim” and “Black from Tula” are worthwhile and tasty. Two very lackluster breeds I grew were “Black Prince” and “Black Cherry.” They were bland, puce-colored, and cracked.

There are also many striped varieties of tomatoes on the market. The zebra series has been around for quite a while; “Green Zebra” is a favorite and comes highly recommended. But it is not ripe until its outer striped skin turns yellow. Before that point, it will be as hard as a lump of coal and just about as tasty.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Green tomatoes have been trendy lately. Tom Wagner, a private breeder from Everett, Wash., created the delicious “Green Zebra” hybrid. The only complaint about this successful tomato concerned its medium size, so Wagner took care of that problem by creating a larger, sweeter green version that he dubbed “Zebra Rita.”

I hope you try your hand at making tomato paste. Stick with the excellent red varieties like “San Marzano.” The latest strain getting rave reviews is “Opalka” – it makes the best paste and sauce. It grows into a long pepper shape and is the color of a classic flaming red Ferrari. Look for it in the farmers’ markets.

Tomato paste is not the easiest thing to make and you need buckets/ bushels of tomatoes to do it. Stay away from the variety known as “Green Sausage.” With a name like that, you may be tempted to plant at least one to test it out. But, I must say, it is one of the oddestlooking tomato plants I have ever seen. It is low and squat with very tiny leaves. The green striped sausage shaped tomatoes are hard and never soften enough to make a good sauce.

The sweetest tomatoes in the marketplace are “Sungold,” “Sugar Snack,” and “Sweet Baby Girl.” All rank very high on the Brix scale that measures sugar content, with a range of 6.1 to 8.

Regardless of color, stripes, or sausage-like appearances, the best tomato for you will depend, like many foods, on your particular tastes.

A recipe that is ideal for summer is a fresh tomato tart. It is perfect with a small salad for lunch or as a palate teaser at dinner.

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