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PHOTO: Jessica Walliser
This season was the best tomato year we’ve had in a long time! I had the biggest harvest I’ve had in years, managing to freeze 15 quarts of spaghetti sauce and 20 quarts of tomato soup, and serve countless fresh sliced tomatoes to family and friends. Although early blight struck the garden due to our rainy season, it didn’t stop the plants from producing a bounty of fruits, despite their brown foliage.
I grew seven tomato varieties this year. Most were heirloom selections with only one hybrid making the cut. Here’s the low-down on this season’s favorites.
1. Cosmonaut Volkov
This is a perennial favorite in my garden. I grow at least three plants every year. The round, uniform fruits are fist-sized and ripen to a lovely red all the way to the stem. This heirloom variety produces about two to three dozen fruits per plant in my garden, and they offer moderate acidity, which is a trait I love in a tomato. Although I use Cosmonaut Volkov primarily for soup making, it’s also amazing just sliced and lightly salted.
2. Heart of Italy
I grew this tomato for the first time this year. The huge heart-shaped fruits are pink and very meaty. The only thing I disliked about this tomato was its tendency to have hard, green shoulders. I found myself cutting the shoulders off before using the fruits in spaghetti sauce. It felt like a waste, but the flavor and texture of this tomato could not be beat. Each plant produced between eight and 10 fruits.
3. Chocolate Stripes
Another first-timer in my garden, this unique tomato is slightly larger than a baseball and features silvery brown streaking on the skin of the fruit. The streaking doesn’t go through to the flesh, but the fruits sure were beautiful in the garden. The plants were a moderate producer with each plant providing a good dozen or so tomatoes. The flavor was fairly mild without being watery.
My go-to orange tomato, the Persimmon’s flesh is a bit on the dry side and not overly acidic—two traits I really love in a sandwich and slicing tomato. There are minimal seed pockets and not a lot of “slime” surrounds the seeds themselves. Persimmon produces tomatoes that are slightly larger than a fist and ripen uniformly to a beautiful, brilliant orange.
This is my favorite beefsteak-type heirloom tomato. Each massive fruit weighs between 1 and 2 pounds. The skin is a soft yellow with pink streaking, and when cut open, the flesh is pink and yellow streaked. Stunning! Each slice of this amazing tomato is as big as your hand. It’s juicy with a very delicate flavor that’s perfect for a BLT or with a slice of mozzarella and some cracked pepper.
6. Early Girl
Early Girl completes my garden by providing me with the first tomatoes of the season. Many of the heirloom varieties I grow have a long season and don’t ripen until late summer. Early Girl, however, is my stand-by for early season production. The red fruits have the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness and are both uniform and prolific.
7. Green Zebra
This tomato finds a home in my garden every year simply because I love how it looks sliced with other tomatoes on a plate. The fruits remain green, even when ripe, and have a subtle striping on the skin. The flavor has a little zing and the juicy green flesh is just beautiful when made into fresh salsa or green gazpacho.