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...)