Our summer came to an abrupt end when thick smoke from nearby forest fires blanketed our air and shut out the sun for 10 days, just as the last tomatoes were on track to ripen. I'm a bit of a garden nerd - aren't we all? I grow pretty much everything, but I especially love tomatoes. I was recently asked to start a discussion about our favorite tomato varieties and what we like to do with them.
I grow my tomato, pepper, and eggplant starts from seed on a special kitchen island where I can set up lights, germination pads, etc. This way I can be sure to get the varieties I especially like and can save seeds from the biggest and best. Plus I just feel more connected to the plants if I grow them from seed myself. One variety in my family is called Ned. About 12 years ago, my daughter and her husband went to a Portland restaurant called Ned. Pooya, my son-in-law, ordered an heirloom tomato salad with a delicious yellow and orange striped tomato in it. Being the PhD chemist and budding gardener that he was, he fished seeds out of this tomato, and took them home. He grew them up the following season, shared one with me from which I also fished out seeds, and we have grown them and called them Ned ever since. Every year we send each other a picture of our biggest Ned. Sometimes they approach 2 pounds! Having grown many, many varieties of tomatoes myself, I'm pretty sure these are Big Rainbow. But that doesn't matter!
Another variety I always grow is Red Brandywine. Now many of us know this variety to not grow well here in the Willamette Valley. However I like them. One year, maybe 5-6 years ago, I noticed a familiar looking plant growing in a garden bed in early May that I knew I hadn't planted. I took a picture of it and sent it to Pooya. He said "Potato?". That could make sense if I had ever grown potatoes there and if the leaves didn't smell like tomato leaves. We couldn't believe that a Brandywine would be growing as a volunteer that early in the season, but I transplanted it to a place where it would actually have a chance to grow well and sure enough it was a vigorous red Brandywine that produced 12-15 really big red tomatoes. I saved seeds from the biggest one and now grow them every year. And yes I'm happy to share seeds!
Other varieties that I like to grow are Lemon Boy for a colorful salsa, Striped Roman for a great paste tomato that also slices up for a tasty and novel looking fresh tomato, Snow White and Green Zebra for their wonderful complimentary tang, Carmello for a great tasting hybrid with vigorous production. Lucid Gem and Jacinte Jewel are usually good producers that give beautiful color and excellent taste. I think Cherokee Purple and Black Krim are nearly identical and I grow them interchangeably. Green heirlooms are especially interesting to me. I have grown Aunt Ruby's German Green and Grune Von Hellarious in addition to Green Zebra (not really an heirloom). They taste good and make the tomato plate look so beautiful. This year I had so many Grune and Green Zebras that I made ripe green tomato-basil soup. It was exceptionally good! I'll put the recipe in the recipe section. Principe Borghese, which was introduced to me at the MG Plant Sale a number of years ago before I was a MG, is a terrible tasting tomato that cooks up into the most amazing sauce. I grow them just to make sauce, but they are also good for drying. I always like to grow at least one new-to-me variety. I got Paul Robeson seeds as a gift at my MG graduation a few years back. I didn't grow them in earnest until this year and they are beautiful delicious tomatoes that I will grow every year. And who doesn't grow Sun Gold? My favorite red cherry is Cherry Baby. I've grown other colors in the cherry size, chocolate cherry in particular, but they just get too overwhelming. Other favorites that I don't grow every year are Yellow and Black Brandywines, Kellogg's Breakfast, Gold Medal, San Marzano, Amana Orange, Mortgage Lifter, Polish Linguisia, Martino's Roma, Momotaro, Fantastic, among others.
I love to can tomatoes, sauce, and paste and freeze soup. But I think what I love the most is an open face caprese sandwich with labne (yogurt cheese) spread on whole wheat sourdough bread, a nice layer of fresh basil, a good slab of Bel Gioso mozzarella cheese, and a huge slice of a big Ned or Brandywine, and plenty of salt and pepper. The rest of the tomato gets cut up and laid out on the plate and the juices get soaked up by the bread. This is summer heaven to me. My husband and I are always in competition for the big beautiful ones. He likes to wash and stem them and freeze them whole. He is from the Philippines where a basic comfort food is called viand and he puts a whole frozen tomato in it. The tomato dissolves, core and all and makes a kind of soup that is so delicious and comforting. After all is said and done, we are always left with many green tomatoes that didn't ripen. I have found that they make the most delicious soup and they can be canned just like ripe tomatoes.
What are your favorite tomato varieties? What do you like to do with them?