After 30 years of growing tomatoes, I am still discovering great tomato varieties, and there’s no end in sight. Consider the numbers. Let’s say there are 800 legitimate tomato varieties, and you have room to grow 4 varieties each year. After gardening for a century, you will have tasted about half of them.
What tomatoes will you taste from your garden this year? Flavor is the thing in home grown tomatoes, so choosing varieties with complex flavors and pleasing textures is fundamental to a successful season. You will also need to provide organically enriched soil in a very sunny site, because fertile soil and plenty of warm sun make good tomatoes even better.
Two years ago, while researching America's Favorite Tomatoes for Mother Earth News magazine, I heard many familiar names like ‘Sun Gold’ (yellow cherry) and ‘Brandywine’(a large-fruited red heirloom) – two varieties often seen near the top of lists of taste test winners. But I also learned of many great-tasting varieties I’d never grown, so I’ve started a new list – call it my life list of garden tomatoes. The latest name to be added, 'Alicante', I picked up from Jeremy’s report on best tomato varieties for the UK.
What varieties are in my garden this year? Here’s the who’s who of this season’s tomato patch, here in southwest Virginia, USA.
Because we love them:
'Stupice' is back for its third season, because The Bean Man (my fella) eats a dozen of the golf ball-size red beauties at a sitting, straight from the bowl. This heirloom variety from Czechoslovakia is early, long-bearing, and very easy to grow.
'Sugary' hybrid pumps out hundreds of teardrop-shaped cherry tomatoes with sweet, fruity flavor. Cut in half and popped into the dehydrator, they make fabulous dried tomatoes.
For special colors and flavors:
'Black Krim' is new (for me) this year, chosen for its reputation for rich, smoky flavor with notes of honey and wine. This Russian heirloom is also reported to be more productive and easier to grow compared to other "black" tomatoes, which are really dark purple.
'Persimmon' is also a first-timer, which can pass for an orange in size and color. Every garden needs a tomato or two that bear yellow, orange, or green fruits because they look so stunning on the plate. Last year I went green with ‘Green Zebra’ (it was delicious and gorgeous), but this year I’m trying ‘Persimmon’, which I’ve heard is among the best tasting of all orange varieties.
For cooking and canning:
'Roma VF' always impresses me with its versatility. The oblong fruits are juicy enough to use in salads or on sandwiches, but firm enough to make thick sauce. The plants are also phenomenally productive.
'San Marzano' is super firm and dry, which helps balance the juiciness of other tomatoes when they all get pushed through the food mill together on sauce-making day. This workhorse cooking tomato is chosen for texture more than flavor.
It’s a mixed group, but that’s how I like it. A few hybrids for dependability, some fine open-pollinated varieties for flavor, and others that will fill canning jars in style. Please join the conversation and tell us about the star varieties in your tomato patch. I know I’m not the only gardener who’s keeping a life list.
- Barbara Pleasant