Sunday, July 10, 2011


  A tomato plant for the most part looks like a tomato plant.  For months, we've been looking at long rows of these green plants.  Now suddenly the plants are giving forth their signature colors and shapes.  We do have a map of the tomato patch, but it's been more fun to let the fruits form and then color.  This way we recognize the arrival of our old favorites and meet for the first time our new trialed ones.  But we don't look at them long - tomatoes are for eating!
  When tomatoes are this beautiful, they simply need to be served as is.  A favorite side dish of ours is a plate of sliced tomatoes - with the whole spectrum of colors.  Starting from the bottom of the rainbow, we have our repeat favorite 'Cherokee puprle.'  It's often the first to disappear from the platter with it's tempting maroon/purple fully ripe color and rich flavor to match.  Next, greens: ripe tomatoes can be green - they actually get a bit of yellowish hue which, in addition to the softness, clues you they are ready.  Our greens this year include a smaller salad one 'green zebra' with its delicious tart bite and yellow stripes.  'Aunt Ruby's German green' is a new full-size green slicing tomato that Melissa's mom saved seed from for us and we're trying for the first time this year.  In the orange/yellow spectrum we have 'Djena Lee' a very pretty, slightly oval shaped yellow-orange tomato.  'Azoychka', a Russian heirloom, ripens to a taxi cab yellow with a hint of citrus flavor.  We love the way it contrasts, in taste but especially in color, with the red tomatoes.  Another very unusual tomato is the 'white queen,' which is such a pale yellow that it's really about white.  And then we get to the reds and pinks.  'Akers West Virginia' has been our long-time favorite large red slicer, the one that says put me on a slab of mayonaise lathered bread.  With homemade mayaonise (very easy to make), even our kids love this regular lunch time meal.  'German Johnson' the pink version of a large slicer, are a locally recognized favorite and for good reason.  They come on early and big.  'Peron sprayless' and 'Illini star' are reds, and a bit smaller than the previous big guys, so they can go for a sandwich or something smaller.  But if you're undecided on color, 'Mr. Stripey' is the tomato for you.  It's a gigantic, gorgeous red tomato with yellow stripes or is it a yellow tomato with red stripes.  Either way, cut crosswise it's a treat for the eyes.  But don't stop there.  Eat it up and we'll have more for you next week.
  In the just for fun category this year, we're trialing 'vine peach', a seed gift from a friend.  And true to their name they are covered with a peach-like fuzz and a peach-like color enough to really make you think you're holding a ripe peach in your hand.  'Thai pink' is a smallish "plum tomato" new to us this year from the same seed-saving friend.  And we love our cherry tomatoes.  Just mentioning the names and you certainly can envision a bowl-full of mini color balls - 'orange cherry', 'red pearl', pink cherry, 'black cherry', Harry's yellow grape, and 'tommy toe,' a well-known red heirloom.
  And finally, what we refer to as our processing or 'winter' tomatoes - 'Amish paste' and 'San Marzano redorta'.  'Amish paste' actually is a wonderful multi-purpose tomato.  If we had to grow one tomato, it would be this one.  In fact, a neighbor who claims not to really like tomatoes, now only grows this one.  A repeat winner in our blind taste tests, it excels fresh in the summer and is a winter treat out of the jar on pizza or pasta.  We can't say enough about 'San Marzanos' either so we just planted about a quarter of our tomato patch to them!  They are big.  Forget hours peeling baby romas to can.  One of these equals 5 romas, with much less trouble and double the flavor.  They are nearly juiceless and seedless (which can make seed saving an effort) so canning them is a joy.  Their meatiness means that they don't cook down nearly as much as other tomatoes, so for making a sauce or anything you want to thicken up, a pound of these San Marzano seems to be worth two pounds of slicing tomatoes.  Stick 5 or 6 peeled tomatoes in a quart jar and they are ready to go into the canner.
  All our tomatoes are open-pollinated varities grown from seed we saved (except for the ones we are trialing for the first time).  They are put through a rigorous taste test each year to make sure they perform where it counts the most.  Let us know what you think as you enjoy this year's tomato season!

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