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Evaluating Tomatoes, 2012: Early Edition

02/08/2012

I decided to grow half as many tomato plants this season as I did last year, while increasing the number of varieties I planted by one, to five total: two hybrids (Black Cherry, grown last year, and Italian Ice, new this year) and three heirlooms (Brandywine and Japanese Black Trifele, grown last year, and Moskvich, an early tomato new this year). Of course I have fewer total tomatoes to harvest, and I suspect that even if I had planted the same number of plants this year I would be harvesting fewer: the plants just don’t seem as loaded with fruit in this relentless, damaging drought. (I’ve been wanting to write about the drought, but every time I try I start to get depressed and stop.)

The Black Cherry, while pleasing, I didn’t want to grow but so many people asked me to grow it that I ended up caving and buying a package of seeds. I’ll plant the rest of them until they’re gone, but I would like to find a good sweet heirloom cherry (or two) to replace it with. I imagine there will always be an amazing sounding hybrid out there to tempt me, but I really do want to transition to as close to 100% heirloom as possible – soon. I’m disappointed in the Italian Ice, which I heard from an inside source was also a disappointment to the professionals. The sweetness typical to a cherry tomato is definitely there and unmistakeable, but the texture is displeasing to me. It’s like the tomato has a super thick wall, and then it’s all loose inside – I find it hard to describe. If you’re around, you’ll just have to taste one. I’ll plant the rest so as not to waste the seeds, but as with the Black Cherry I probably won’t purchase again. I will note, however, that it is a fabulous edition to salsa – I’m eating some I made earlier today and the tangy sweetness it adds is terrific. So maybe it’s just not a pop in your mouth from the vine kind of tomato.

Making up for the Italian Ice disappointment is the Moskvich: I am giddily pleased with this simple little early tomato. At first I thought there was nothing special about the first little guy I ate (sliced and lightly salted with sea salt – one of the very rare times I add salt to any kind of food) but the more I have the more I am appreciating this versatile tomato. The fruit were the last to appear among the five plants and were the first to ripen, for one, so it is a true early tomato. And juicy! No loose innards like the Italian Ice, either, just a nice, non-mealy, juicy burst of flavor.

Trifeles and Brandywine just starting to ripen now, but I already know I love those.

As for next year, aside from a nice heirloom cherry tomato, I want to try and find a Lemon Drop tomato – the pack picked up a pint at the Farmer’s Market last weekend and the tear-drop shaped fruit was the perfect edition to salsa. I’ve always wondered what those big, striped tomatoes taste like, too….

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