Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2010 Tomato Reviews

Now that the tomatoes are starting to die off in the heat, I thought it was time to do an overview of Tomato Class of 2010. There are so many heirloom tomato varieties out there, I'd never be able to keep track of them if I didn't have good records.

I wanted to make this sort of like the tomato tastings on this blog, but I don't know if I can manage to go into that much detail on the flavor notes. After years without a garden, I'm still a bit too "YAY REAL TOMATOES!" to be very discerning. But I'll try to be as detailed as possible.

It's also a little unfair this year, because all the tomatoes I grew were from very old seeds I got in an online trade from 2005 that I was afraid wouldn't even germinate. I ended up with very uneven numbers of plants for each variety, which makes it hard to judge them on production (I don't really want to go to the trouble of keeping track of lbs. per plant). Also, since it's the first year of vegetable gardening in this location, the tomatoes have had to battle things like poor soil and Bermuda grass. Because of these things, I am hesitant to be too harsh on the little guys.

Black Cherry
This a cherry version of the "black" type of tomato (which are really a dark purple), such as Cherokee Purple, Black from Tula, Paul Robeson, etc. Black tomatoes are some of the best as far as flavor, especially in hot climates (I have heard from Yankees that they aren't so impressive in cold climates).
Looks: Mine are large cherries, purple with greenish tops. The gel on the inside around the seeds is dark green. "Green shoulders" seems to be typical of black tomatoes. I think it looks cool.
Taste: Yep, they're good! Black tomato flavor in a cherry. They're very rich and also nice and sweet.

Growth: I ended up with six plants. It looks like they're turning out to be the first to die in the summer heat, which was not expected. Usually cherry tomatoes are some of the toughest plants. However, they are also planted on the edge of the garden and may be having trouble competing with Bermuda grass. Like all cherry tomatoes, they are giving good yields (or they were until the heat got them). Plenty for snacking, salads, tossing with pasta, etc.

Grow again?: Yes. I have saved seeds and will definitely grow them again for the delicious flavor.

Hawkins Plum
This is a tomato I got from this guy posting to GardenWeb. He says it's a family heirloom grown by his father-in-law, then his dad, and then by him. I couldn't resist that story, so I requested some. Later I found out there's a totally different tomato called Mr. Hawkins, so I'm calling this one Hawkins Plum to avoid confusion.

Looks: Turned out to be a paste-type tomato, like a Roma, but bigger. Some have pointy bottoms and some don't.

Taste: Well, it's a paste tomato, which means it's drier than other tomatoes with a thicker skin and small seed cavities to make canning easier. These types of tomatoes are not meant to eat fresh, though some people do like them for salads or sandwiches because they're less wet so they don't make your bread soggy and dilute your salad dressing. They taste good, but again, are not really meant for eating fresh, so don't have much of a sweet or intense flavor and are kind of tough. Still much better than any store bought Roma, though.

Growth: I ended up with four very healthy plants. I was excited, but the yields are a disappointment. To be fair, four plants is not very many, but paste tomatoes are supposed to have heavy yields so you'll get a lot at a time to make a big batch of sauce. I would probably have more of these if half of them weren't rotten! Between blossom end rot and cracking, I've thrown away at least half of them because they were too rotten. The picture is of some I just picked that aren't even quite ripe yet, but I wanted to get them before they had a chance to rot. The original guy they're from listed his location as Florida, so I thought his tomato should be able to grow here, but maybe it's too dry for them or something.

Grow again?: Maybe I'll give them one more chance, as I did save seeds, but his variety is On Notice (as Stephan Colbert would say), and may be culled if it turns out this wasn't just a particularly bad year for them. I have seeds for another paste variety I got from Baker Creek called Big Month that I'll probably grow next year to see if they do better. To be completely fair, one of these years I may do a paste tomato trial, growing equal numbers of several varieties at one time to give them a fair comparison.

Mortgage Lifter
Ah yes, the famous Mortgage Lifter tomato. I'm not going to repeat the whimsical story of Radiator Charlie and his famous Mortgage Lifter tomatoes here, because every heirloom gardener is sick of hearing it. If you haven't heard the story, then you can Google it or just look in every single catalog that has heirloom tomatoes ever.

Looks: Nice sized pink beefsteak tomatoes. Not huge, but plenty big enough for me. Only a little bit of ribbing or none at all.

Taste: Nice and sweet. Small seed cavities throughout. Good for sandwiches.

Growth: This was my favorite tomato of 2010. I grew seven plants and got more Mortgage Lifters than any other tomato. The plants are still producing now, even when Black Cherry, Red Brandywine, and Hawkins are starting to poop out. On the other hand, these tomatoes might have gotten the best spot of all the tomatoes. They were planted in an area that I think was garden before under previous tenants, since the soil looked like it had been amended with lots of peat moss. This may have given them an unfair advantage over the other tomatoes.

Grow again?: Yes. They seem to be pretty heat tolerant and nice producers with good flavor. I can see this being a pretty reliable tomato to plant year after year.

Also, my first Mortgage Lifter tomato of the season was also my most, um, interesting looking tomato of this year...
Heh heh heh... heh heh heh heh... Um, but seriously, this is called fasciation, and probably had something to do with this being the first fruit my Mortgage Lifters set. It started out as two flowers fused together, and ended up with a conjoined twin tomato. It tasted fine, and the rest of the tomatoes were normal.

Pink Ponderosa
Looks: Another pink beefsteak tomato, this one on average seems bigger than Mortgage Lifter, with more ribbing. However, I also only got two plants, and one of them was kind of sickly, so it's hard to judge this tomato very well.

Taste: This one was good too. I should to a side-by-side comparison between it and Mortgage Lifter some time. Sorry my taste descriptions are not so detailed this year.

Growth: Well, I only got two plants, and one didn't do much, so I really only have one healthy plant, and they are both getting crowded out by my cushaw squash now. However, that one healthy plant seems to be doing well. It's still got tomatoes on it even this late in the year. If I had half a dozen healthy ones instead of that one, it might be a more obviously good tomato.

Grow again?: Yes, I'm giving this one another chance. One plant is not enough to judge. That one plant seems to be doing well, so I've saved seeds and will try it again some time.

Red Brandywine
This is a completely different variety from the famous Pink Brandywine. Like all my tomatoes this year, it's a regular leaf indeterminate (except Hawkins was determinate). It's supposed to tolerate heat better than Pink Brandywine.

Looks: Rounder than Mortgage Lifter, with deeper ribbing. And, of course, red instead of pink (the lighting on my pictures wasn't very good and doesn't show the true color).

Taste: Less seedy than Mortgage Lifter or Pink Ponderosa. I think if I ever just give up on paste tomatoes and grow regular tomatoes for sauce, Red Brandywine would be a good one for that. Seems to be a little more strongly flavored than the pink tomatoes. Also good for sandwiches.

Growth: I ended up with eight plants, but the Mortgage Lifters seem to be out-producing them. However, this could be because of location in the garden. The Red Brandywines are on the same side as the Black Cherries where they have to battle Bermuda grass. They're starting to poop out in the heat now too. Only two plants are still looking decent.

Grow again?: Yes. Even though they didn't do as well as ML, they still did pretty darn well considering the circumstances, and turned out to be a better sauce tomato than Hawkins Plum. They deserve another chance.
Yellow Pear
Yes, I also got the famous/infamous Yellow Pear in trade, even though I didn't ask for them.

Looks: Really cute pear shaped, cherry sized tomatoes. Rich yellow color. Looks good mixed with other colors of small tomatoes in a salad. Unfortunately, looks are about all they have going for them.

Taste: None to speak of. Ok, well, that's a bit harsh, but they're only a little bit better than store bought. Then again, the other small tomato I grew this year was the delicious Black Cherry, which may have made them seem even worse. Also they have really tough skins and aren't very juicy. I made a bunch into tomato jam so hopefully the other flavors will help them along a bit. Plus the jam turned out yellow which was cool. I also put them in my peach salsa since the main flavor there was peaches and not tomatoes.

Growth: Very prolific! I've got lots and lots of these little duds. I'm picking lots of them and lots of them are still falling on the ground. I also ended up with the most plants of these. Ten germinated and grew up nice and healthy. One problem is they split when it rains, probably because of the tough skin, but I have so many that I don't care.

Grow again?: Not on purpose, no. I might end up with volunteers because of the ones falling on the ground, but this is the only tomato this year I didn't save seeds from. They just don't have any flavor, and there are other cute/pretty tomatoes out there that probably taste better. Next year I'm growing Dr. Carolyn, which is a round yellow cherry.

Well, that's my 2010 tomato report! To recap, Mortgage Lifter, Black Cherry, and Red Brandywine all passed with flying colors. Pink Ponderosa might have stood out better if I had more plants. Hawkins had too much BER, so it's a "maybe", and Yellow Pear was a dud. Tomatoes I have in my seed collection but didn't grow this year are Arkansas Traveller, Big Month, Bloody Butcher, Cherokee Purple, Dr. Carolyn, Pink Brandywine, and Riesentraube, so at least some of those will probably make an appearance next year. Since those are all full packets from 2009, I should be able to grow a more even number of each variety for better comparisons. And by then my garden should be in better shape, with better soil and less Bermuda grass, so I should get even better tomatoes.

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