Focus Ingredient: The Amazing Tomato
Few things excite me like a fresh, home-grown, vine-ripened sweet acidic tomato. Put a bunch in a bowl, and I nearly come to tears. They are just beautiful. The smell, the colors, the shapes, the array of flavors, and the knowledge of so many delicious things to make with them. It’s nearly overwhelming. These little “gift of the Gods” sit atop one of the highest thrones in the gourmet kingdom, yet invite all their ruling counterparts and peasant subjects into their halls with love and deliciousness. God bless the amazing tomato!
Tomatoes are Berries, not Vegetables
That’s right, a berry. Much the same as melons, strawberries or kiwi, tomato vines blossom and create seed ridden berries. Some refer to tomatoes as being a fruit, which I guess works in the sense that many other berries are called fruits. But they are certainly not vegetables. They were misclassified as a vegetable nearly a century ago, and for whatever reason, nobody ever decided to correct the mistake. But I can live with it because their savory acidic flavor pairs better with uses of vegetables than it does that of fruits. Plus I get to grow them in my vegetable garden. But whatever you want to call them, they are just amazing.
Hybrid or Heirloom?
Now that’s a question worth a long drawn out debate. Opinions will range all across the board. We should protect heirlooms, because they are mostly the original varieties of tomatoes. But they take longer to fruit, create uneven fruit, are usually indeterminate (meaning the vines don’t stop growing in length and size), come in all sorts of crazy colors, and provide a wide array of flavors between varieties. Hybrids, on the other hand, have been cross bred to create uniform size, shape, and colored fruits, a consistent flavor even between plant varieties, are typically quicker to bear and ripen, and often are determinate (meaning they have a maximum size of vine growth, usually 3-4 feet). So how do you choose which to grow and eat? Don’t! Just have both!
Early Girl, a Reliable Hybrid Tomato
If there’s one thing that frustrates me to death about heirloom tomatoes, it’s how long they take to bear any fruit. It seems like they just start producing, I get to eat about 10 tomatoes, and then the frost hits and kills them all off. Early Girl is the answer to this.
Early Girl produces fruit much sooner than heirlooms, about a month sooner. Better yet, they taste wonderful! They are very acidic, so you get that strong fresh tomato taste with them. They are medium sized, so are perfect for salads and sandwich slicing. They are perfect little globes and are bright red in color. They produce a lot of fruit, and keep bearing it until frost. I’ve tried other varieties of hybrids, but Early Girl is the winner for me. They make excellent marinara sauce, and are great for canning as well.
Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes, This Hybrid is Out of Control (but Delicious)!
Good heavens! I grew Sweet 100 Cherry this year and it is taking over my entire garden! I can’t keep up with it, and seem to give a gallon away to friends every week, but talk about an awesome tasting tomato! They are super sweet, seriously almost like popping a piece of candy in your mouth. They are acidic enough to really wake your mouth up. They are beautiful looking and are about the size of…. well…. a cherry. They are perfect in salads, roasted on a pizza, tossed in pasta, eaten raw with olive oil and basil, or chopped up into fresh salsa. So damn good! They can even be frozen to be cooked with later. Definitely grow a cherry tomato plant…. but only one, please, no more than one. Otherwise you’ll be cursing my name for encouraging you to grow them (due to the sheer volume of tomatoes you will have).
Roma Tomatoes, What’s the Point?
Seriously, why? Why waste your time and garden space with a flavorless small tomato? I don’t get it. They’re good for sauce? I think not. I’ve tried them 3 years running now, and every year I get these stupid little small bell shaped tomatoes that are mealy in texture, taste as bad or worse than store bought tomatoes, and do nothing but piss me off. Screw you Romas! If I want you, I will buy you from the grocery store where they taste the same but are twice the size.
So instead of growing lame Romas, let me tell you some of my favorites to grow at home or buy at farmer’s markets:
Mr Stripey, My Favorite Heirloom Tomato
I personally believe that the angelic choirs above burst into hymns of praise when God made the Mr. Stripey tomato. It’s the best tomato I’ve ever had, period. It is firm, but juicy. It is sweet, but slightly acidic. It has a strong tomato flavor, but is mild and non-overbearing at the same time. It is quite large, with some tomatoes being over 3 pounds. It is yellow orange in color with deep red veins throughout, and just looks incredible sliced on a plate. It is awesome. My Stripey is actually pretty common and can be found along side all the other tomato plants each spring in the vegetable plant section of your local mega mart. They take a long time to fruit (70-90 days), and are indeterminate, so plan accordingly. But once they produce, they will keep you fed with sweet mana until the frost comes to kill them.
Black Krim, a Conversation Starter Heirloom Tomato
Black Krim is a very cool tomato to grow. It gets it’s name from it’s very dark red and green colors which make it look almost purplish black. This color is not only on the outside, but throughout the inner flesh and seed gel as well. They are very pretty, especially when sliced and plated with other colored tomatoes for contrast.
Black Krims have unique a flavor as well. They still taste like a tomato, but have a very prominent berry flavor that I have not experienced in other tomatoes. It’s almost like somebody stuffed a blueberry inside the tomato when it was first forming, it consumed the blueberry, and added the color and taste of that one blueberry to itself. Very mild, but definitely a touch of berry flavor there.
Black Krims take a long time to fruit (70-90 days), and are indeterminate, so they tend to want to grow large, but with some pinching and pruning they are very easy to keep under control. The tomato fruit itself is of medium size, and is perfect for slicing onto a sandwich.
Grow a Tomato Plant, No Matter Where you Live
Just one tomato plant can give you enough fresh tomatoes for salads and sandwiches throughout the summer. They don’t take much space, and there are many different varieties which work well in a container, garden, or flower bed. They are nice looking plants, especially when covered in ripe berries. And once you eat a REAL tomato, you’ll never be able to go back to the crap-hole knock-offs they try to pawn off on us in the grocery stores. Plus, a $5 tomato plant will yield close to $50 worth of tomatoes. It just makes sense. Everything about tomatoes makes sense. God bless the Amazing Tomato.
The Bald Gourmet’s educational and encouraging posts change the world of deliciousness one person at a time. Grow and eat REAL tomatoes!