It is just starting to happen - you notice that fruit on quite a few tomato plants are beginning to blush, to look just a bit "different"....then it is as if the switch is thrown, and they start ripening everywhere.
Well, I am not quite there yet, but we've tasted quite a few and are very happy with what we've tried. Here is a very first of the tomato season report.
Mexico Midget - first ripe in 35 days - we just love this big tomato flavor in a pea sized package!
Russian Queen - 60 days - a new variety from a gardening friend, with quarter pound fruit with distinct red and gold stripes - and a nice full, sweet flavor. Definitely a winner.
Yellow Prue - 59 days - part of a trial for my tomato friend Tom; long, fat bomb shape, bright yellow, and an interesting, nearly cooked tomato sauce flavor. I need to taste another, but surely interesting.
Sungold - 55 days - nothing more needs to be said about this spectacular orange cherry tomato. I am glad we have five plants growing!
"not" Indian Stripe - 61 days - clearly a cross the bee created in my garden in 1994, perhaps with Purple Smudge - the round quarter pound fruit have an interesting bluish purple cast to the shoulders, then ripen pink. It is quite firm, quite sweet, and quite good....which is a good thing, because it is going to produce a lot of fruit!
Tasmanian Chocolate (two different seed lots) - 50 and 60 days for the two plants - I am pleased to report that the near half pound, rich brownish red fruit are just delicious. I am so glad we got this one into a seed catalog, this being one of our dwarf project new releases!
Perth Pride - 58 days - nice little 3 ounce purple fruit have a full flavor with a tart edge, as we hoped. If all goes well, this one will be in the next group to go to a seed company.
Vzryv - 52 days - one of three early red varieties my friend Jeff sent me, this one is just devastated by wilt disease - but it is a productive determinate variety with 4 ounce round fruit that have a very nice flavor. Needs another chance.
Rose Quartz - 54 days - super productive pink cherry tomato, but the first fruits just didn't have the flavor I remember....may need to be riper, but there will be plenty to taste again.
Fruhe Liebe - 46 days - another from my friend Jeff, and similar to Kimberly. It also got Fusarium Wilt quickly and was pulled - the small red fruit are pretty good for an early non-cherry tomato, but the flavor wasn't earth-shattering for us.
Ozark Cherry - 56 days - Another very productive red large cherry tomato. The flavor isn't spectacular, but is just fine - I think this tomato will shine skewered and grilled.
Coyote - 50 days - this one finally returned to my garden after many years' absence. We are surprised at how much we are enjoying the little ivory colored fruit - it was moved to our deck for better access!
Rosella Purple - 58 days - this was the most delicious large tomato of the year so far, a dead ringer for Cherokee Purple in size, color and flavor. Another new dwarf variety from our project that is now commercially available from a seed company - which is a very good thing!
Shazka - 50 days - the final early red tomato from my friend Jeff, this is a cute little dwarf plant producing 4 ounce round red fruit with a nice flavor. Alas, disease is taking it down quickly.
On the shelf and ripening, or on the plant and ready to be picked, are Isis, Brandywine, Lucky Cross, Cherokee Chocolate, Sarandipity, Blazing Beauty, Mallee Rose, and Coorong Pink. And I suspect I will find more with color when I look later today! I will do another tasting update in a week or so.
I hope you are all starting your harvest of delicious tomatoes!
Some of you have been to A Southern Season cooking schools that I've been involved with over the years (they are great fun, and great value!). There is an event coming up that will focus on...TOMATOES! Marilyn Markel, who manages the school, will team up with Alex Hitt (owner of Peregrine Farms and one of the first farmers in this area to discover Cherokee Purple...this was how we met, in fact!) and me to provide a fun class with eating, tasting, information and the opportunity to ask any questions that come to mind.
The link to the event is here - https://www.southernseason.com/class/event.asp?id=19267
Of all of the tomato-related activities I do over the season, I think the Cooking School sessions are the most fun. And if you've not been to a class at A Southern Season, you are in for a treat - it is a state of the art facility, and the classes are run really, really well.
So, this is a plea to click the link, sign up - and I hope to see some of you there!
(ps...you can always treat it as a prelude to Tomatopalooza, which takes place the following weekend, on July 31!)
How time flies! Can it possibly be more than 50 years since Burpee created a tomato that, in a way, revolutionized tomato gardening - Big Boy? After that, the goal was for tomatoes that were big and red and possessing "hybrid vigor" (whether real or a clever marketing point). Inevitably, Big Boy was followed by Better Boy...and Ultra Boy...and Wonder Boy....and, let us not forget Big Girl, Better Girl, and...you get the picture!
When Sue and I started gardening (our first the summer following our marriage, back in 1981), we used transplants from a local garden center. Better Boy was our variety of choice, though we did grow Whopper in 1984 from a free packet of seeds sent to us by Parks. Our 1985 garden was the first to be planted exclusively from seedlings we started ourselves, with the focus still on hybrids. Starting in 1986, the balance switched nearly exclusively to non-hybrid varieties, once we tasted a ripe Nepal (from Johnny's Selected Seeds).
But I digress.....I wanted to talk about our very first experience with perhaps the most famous hybrid of them all, Burpee's Big Boy. Earlier this week, one of our neighbors, Ray, brought Sue and I three perfect specimens from his garden....Big Boy, Whopper and Big Beef. Though, as I related above, we had positive experiences with Whopper, this would be our first taste of Big Boy (and the much more recently developed Big Beef).
On three consecutive nights, we tasted one each of these tomatoes - unadorned by anything except a little grind of black pepper (but no salt!). First, the results - We thought that, flavor wise, Big Boy was fair to pretty good - a 6 or 6.5 out of 10. The seed locules were quite large, and the texture softer than we like. Both Whopper and Big Beef were superior in flavor to our palates - they had a more intense, classic tomato flavor, but also more nuances, complexity - just a more enjoyable eating experience. Interestingly, the interior structure of Big Beef was more similar to Big Boy, whereas the Whopper was more like the larger heirloom types such as Cherokee Purple or Brandywine.
I guess the our tasting results shouldn't be a surprise - Big Boy was unusual in being a smooth, large, uniform red tomato - quite an advance for its time, where most tomatoes were small to medium sized. It also signaled the beginning of the dominance of hybrid tomato varieties in seed catalogs - they were viewed as clear improvements for a variety of reasons (and certainly were more profitable for seed companies). In the breeder's continuing efforts to create better and better tomatoes, Big Beef certainly should be expected to have better flavor than Big Boy, and we found that to be true.
So thank you, Ray, for your generous gift, which allowed Sue and I to have a very interesting mini-tasting. Now we can look forward to the next tasting comparisons, as our own tomatoes approach ripeness....and, yes, that wonderful annual Raleigh tasting event, Tomatopalooza - which is approaching very quickly! (more on that in an upcoming blog...)