Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tomatoes I Have Known

Henderson Pink (left) and Moonglow tomatoes grow with a companion
planting of nasturtiums (in front).
Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes.
Do Americans love any vegetable more than the tomato?
Oh, probably, but it is the one vegetable that most gardeners or would be gardeners yearn to grow. Even those without garden space grow tomatoes in large containers, all so they can get that fresh-picked flavor that you just can't find in the grocery store.
A basket of Brandywines.
The tomato was cultivated as a food plant in Central America by the Aztecs for perhaps 2,000 years or more before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Yet it was not considered a food plant by many European settlers in North America until the mid- to late 1800s. The Italians were the first Europeans to embrace the tomato as a culinary plant (recipes appear in an Italian cookbook in 1692). But most regarded it merely as an ornamental.
Since the tomato gained favor in American gardens a mere 150 or so years ago, it has been selected and hybridized to the current point where we have hundreds, perhaps thousands of varieties of Solanum lycopersicum (aka Lycopersicum esculentum). Although the list of tomato varieties I have tried seems rather long, I have barely scratched the surface.
Henderson's Pink and Moonglow tomatoes mixed in with long beans.
In 1997, I first planted what is now my favorite tomato, the pink Brandywine, often designated as Sudduth's Brandywine to differentiate it from the black, yellow and red Brandywines. Contrary to popular rumor, it is not an Amish variety, but was developed and saved through several generations of a family.
Brandywine produces a moderate number of large-medium to large bright pink tomatoes. They are prone to being misshapen and to crack, but are the best-tasting slicing tomatoes.
Henderson's Pink, which I tried last year because a friend gave me a couple of her starts, was similar in size and color, without as much cracking and misshapeness. The flavor was good, as well.
Black Krims are green on top when ripe (right) the top and
bottom ones on the left show the deep coloring of the Krim.
The middle one is probably a Brandywine.
Moonglow is a medium to large yellow tomato that did well for me last year. It has a nice, smooth flavor.
Black Krim is another variety that I first tried in 1997. It's deep, rich flavor and color make me keep growing it, although it does not produce that well. The last two years in particular I have had trouble getting much from Black Krim. I am not sure why. Still, I will have a few in the garden again this year. Maybe a little more compost will help. Black Krim is an early season variety, producing well before the Brandywine.
A basket of Sun Golds and another yellow tomato.
Sun Gold is an orange-yellow cherry type with a flavor that tempts even those who don't like tomatoes. It is quite prolific, coming on early and staying on late. I put in several plants because we get lots of requests from non-gardening acquaintances for these tomatoes. Other small yellow tomatoes I have tried include Banana Legs, Gold Nugget and Yellow Pear. They all had their charms, but Sun Gold outshines them.
Furry Yellow Hog. Don't know why it's called that.
One medium sized yellow tomato that I tried a couple of years ago came as a gift with my seed order. I went ahead and planted the tomato because I couldn't resist having something called Furry Yellow Hog in my garden. That tomato did not impress, however. Too bad.

This Amish Paste tomato got a little horny.
 The canning tomato I've chosen is Amish Paste, not a true paste tomato because it is a little too juicy, but a great canner just the same. Its fruit is much larger than the Roma (which I also have grown). Last year's plants were quite productive and provided me with most of my sauce, in spite of there being several other tomato varieties in the garden.
In 2009 a friend gave me a plant that produced very small little pear-shaped tomatoes that were a deep brown-red with purple or "black" overtones. It was a nice tasting, productive tomato that dried well. But he can't remember its name, so if I grow it again it will be by accident.
Unripe Amish Paste on the vine.
Silvery Fir Tree is a pretty plant with very finely divided leaves that looks nice as an ornamental. It produced typical orange-red fruit with an ordinary flavor. I didn't consider it worth another chance.
Striped German is a large, red and yellow striped tomato with a nice flavor, but it suffers from some of the same issues as Brandywine.
The currant tomato -- red and yellow -- is a different species from these other large tomatoes. It grows well and has such a short season that you can direct sow seed in late April and still have a crop by the end of the summer. The marble-sized fruit have a fresh tomato flavor and make a wonderful snack food.
Leaf of Furry Yellow Hog.
I have also tried two varieties called Sibera and Santiam, but it was several years ago and I remember nothing about them. At that same time I also grew White Wonder, which produced a white fruit. The little I remember about it is that many of the fruits cracked and rotted before they made it off the vine.
I am sure that I have planted other tomato varieties, including common hybrids, such as Better Boy, Early Girl and such, but I don't remember anything about them and didn't take notes. I prefer growing heirlooms, even though their production is less than the hybrids, as a rule. I favor the flavor of most heirlooms. And isn't it really the flavor we are after? Besides, heirlooms are usually open pollinated, so that you can save your own seed. Not so with hybrids.
This year I will get to know two other heirloom varieties, Abraham Lincon and Box Car Willie. Will either one win a permanent spot in my garden?

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