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The 2016 Tomato Review

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 - 17:00
Tomato garden

Tuesday is supposed to be Alpennia Teaser Day, but I can tell that I'm not going to have the energy to write something up by the time I get home after dragonboat practice. So I'm swapping in the post that was meant for Random Thursday instead: the 2016 Tomato Review!

Tomatoes are the keystone of my vegetable gardening. If I could grow tomatoes and nothing else, I'd be ok. (Though it's really nice that I can grow other vegetables too!) Since moving to Concord, I've had good tomatoes every second year and I don't know if it's something about what I'm doing or the luck of the weather. After a disappointing crop last year, I decided to put in three new raised beds in a solidly sunny location and fill them entirely with tomatoes. Seventeen different varieties of tomatoes. (Not sure why I didn't round it out to eighteen. I may have simply run out of momentum.)

Well, they delivered. I'm in the stage where I have tomatoes for all my lunches, tomatoes as part of my dinners, and I'm freezing a couple quarts of tomato puree every weekend. And because I'm just that sort of person (i.e., a cataloger), I thought I'd do a detailed review of the crop. This is hampered somewhat by the fact that I didn't quite keep track of exactly what got planted where. I did fill in the spreadsheet with the names. And I sorted them out by color into the three beds (reds, yellows, and a miscellaneous that includes all the purples and blacks plus spillover). But I hadn't accounted for the fact that I have three plants with different names that produce functionally identical-looking fruits. So I'm reviewing them by location, and attempting to assign a name as best I can.

In several places I refer to a "cherry habit" by which I mean that the fruits grow in clusters rather than individually. Some of the medium-sized tomatoes follow this pattern, but others of the same size don't. When I describe a shape as "heirloom" I mean the sort of over-large, irregular, often cracked shape that gets this label slapped on it in grocery stores.

Standing on my little patio, the beds are numbered 1-3 from nearest to farthest. Each bed has a near row and a far row. And each row has a left, center, and right plant (except for the one short row which is missing the right one).

Bed 1: Tomatoes with purple or black highlights, plus spill-over from the reds

tomato1. Near Left: I’m highly confident this is the Black Krim, a large “heirloom” style shape, dark red with a greenish top.  (Tomato varieties advertised with “black” in the name may include colors that range from greenish-black to purple-black.) Like most “heirloom” style varieties, it’s prone to cracking and may assume some peculiar shapes. The Black Krim is very mild in flavor--one might even say bland. It’s not particularly sweet and has low to medium acidity. 

tomato2. Near Middle: Based on the process of elimination, this should be Black Prince. It’s described as being “pear-shaped” in the catalogs though I’d call it more “round with a slightly pointed bottom”. It’s on the small size of medium but grows with a standard habit rather than a cherry habit. A fairly uniform dark red in color. I guess I can see some dark highlights on the shoulders. Mild but flavorful and slightly sweet. Medium acidity.

tomato3. Near Right: Indigo Rose. Quite small in the small-medium size range but without the cherry habit. A bright almost orangey red with purple-black patches on the shoulders where exposed to sun. The flavor is disappointingly bland. It’s low on both acid and sweetness. Use this one for visuals, but not for flavor. 

tomato4. Far Left: In theory, this bed was for varieties with some black or green coloring, but I seem to recall I had to fill in with spill-over from other beds. So based on appearance and the process of elimination, I’m pretty sure this is the Brandywine but there are two others I’m not certain about distinguishing: Mortgage Lifter and Beefsteak. (That is, I seem to remember planting a Beefsteak, though it isn’t in my spreadsheet.) In any event, this is Tomato #4. It’s a large, “heirloom” style shape in bright red. Prone to cracking. Moderately flavorful with mild acidity. Low sweetness.

tomato5. Far Middle: Black Pearl. A standard cherry size and fruiting habit. Dark red with a faintly greenish-black top. On the higher side of acidity and not particularly sweet, but nicely flavorful. No tendency to split after picking, unlike some of the other cherry varieties.

tomato6. Far Right: Cherokee Purple.  Large to very large, with the larger ones taking an “heirloom” shape and a tendency to crack. A sort of pinky-red with dark green shoulders. A very interesting flavor, with an almost “hoppy” under-taste. Not sweet, moderate acidity.

Bed 2: Yellow Tomatoes or with Yellow Highlights

tomato7. Near Left: Golden Jubilee (I think). I’m not entirely certain I have my two yellow tomatoes identified correctly. The main difference is that #9 is more in the orange-yellow range while #7 is more lemon-yellow. So on the basis of the names, I’m going to guess that #9 is “Persimmon” (because the color matches a persimmon) and this one is “Golden Jubilee”. Medium size and standard shape. Bright lemon-yellow, sometimes with a slight pink blush on the underside. No cracking. Either I’m picking them too early or this variety is simply a bit on the hard side when ripe. Mild flavor, low acidity, slightly sweet.

tomato8. Near Middle: Mr. Stripey (This was the last one to come ripe and it wasn't until the color developed that I was confident of the ID.) Medium size and standard shape. a Medium red with yellow blush that is supposed to develop in a striped pattern. The first ones ripe are a little cracked but that may be a weather issue. Like all the yellow tomatoes, very sweet (though not as sweet as the Sun Golds) and low acidity. A pleasant, mild flavor--not strong but not bland. 

tomato9. Near Right: Persimmon (based on the color).  A standard shape and bright orange-yellow color. Both of the ones that have come ripe so far have had an odd  brownish blemish (about the size of a silver dollar) on the flower end, which contributes to the “persimmon” appearance, though I suspect it’s because this plant is at the end of an irrigation line and may have been underwatered at a key develpment point for these specific fruits. Very flavorful, sweet, with medium acidity. 

tomato10. Far Left: Yellow pear. A pear-shaped, lemon-yellow, cherry-type tomato. Mild and pleasant flavor but not particularly sweet and low acidity. 

tomato11. Far Middle: Sun Gold. A cherry-type with considerable variation in fruit size, from the small end of the standard cherry range down to chickpea-sized. Wait for the darker orange color to develop for best results, though you can pick them ad a more lemon-yellow stage. When ripe, prone to splitting after being picked, but they don’t seem to crack while on the vine. Extremely sweet and flavorful with medium acid. Probably the most flavor per unit of any of the varieties I grew this year. Eat them one at a time, sun-warm, and put the memory away for a rainy day. 

Bed 3: Red Tomatoes

tomato12. Near Left: By process of elimination, this may be Mortgage Lifter, though as noted above, I’m not entirely certain I have that, Brandywine, and Beefsteak distinguished properly. Size and shape ranges form a large standard shape to very large “heirloom” shape. Medium red, sometimes with a faint hint of green on the top. Mild and sweet with fairly low acidity. Very “meaty”. I’ll probably earmark these for sauce.

tomato13. Near Middle: There are three varieties that have ended up being nearly indistinguishable in appearance.  All three are bright red and have a size that would be quite small for a standard tomato, but they all have a cherry-type grown habit but are very much on the large size for a cherry (ranging up to almost pingpong ball sized). These three are planted in positions 13, 14, and 16 and match up to the labels Early Girl, Shady Lady, and Cherry. The review descriptions are based on planting position and I haven’t attempted to guess at which variety they match up with. #13 is sweet and flavorful with very mild acidity. 

tomato14. Near Right: For identification problems and physical description, see #13. Very sweet with bold flavor and medium acidity. 

tomato15. Far Left: At least I don’t have to guess at which plant is the Roma, since I didn’t plant more than one of this shape. It’s...um...Roma-shaped (elongated and slightly bulbous toward the bottom). A later ripener than all but one of the other varieties. Bland in flavor and very low acidity and sweetness.  Very “meaty”. Romas are designed for sauce and that’s what I”ll earmark it for.

tomato16. Far Middle: For identification problems and physical description, see #13. Sweet and very flavorful with mild acidity.

tomato17. Far Right: See my comments about being uncertain I have Beefsteak, Brandywine, and Mortgage Lifter sorted out, but we’re just going to call this one Beefsteak arbitrarily. A large to very large “heirloom” shape, somewhat prone to splitting, in a medium red with a slight orange blush to the shoulders. Fairly flavorful and somewhat sweet with medium acidity. Very meaty.