The Kenwood Press
: 05/15/2013

My all-time favorite tomatoes (this year)

Steve Albert

Flavor is the best reason to grow tomatoes in the home vegetable garden. You can always find tomatoes without much flavor at the grocery store.

Since we have more than 270 frost-free days here in the Sonoma Valley, we can grow three or four crops of tomatoes between the last frost in April or May and the first frost in November or December.

Late spring - in May - is when I make my final decision on which tomatoes I will grow each year. I figure if I get my tomato seedlings in the garden by June 1, I can easily grow a couple of early season varieties (ready in 50 to 60 days), a couple of mid-season varieties (ready in 70 to 80 days), a couple of late season varieties (ready in 90 to 100 days), and then a couple of early-ready varieties again before the first frost.

When I am getting ready to plant tomatoes, I first think about how I am going to eat them - raw, out of hand as snacks or sliced on sandwiches, in salads, in salsas, or in soups or stews. I call these my 5-S's: salads, soups, sauces, salsas, and sandwiches. There are great tasting tomatoes that will fit each of these categories that are easy to grow in the home garden.

Now, don't ask me which is my favorite tomato. Every spring I speak to several garden clubs and in the course of even one talk I will name four or five tomatoes and call each one “my all-time favorite tomato,” and someone will say “…but didn't you just say that other one was your all-time favorite?” Guilty! Life is short, in the time I have left I figure I can have several “all-time favorites.”

The 5-S's

So here I give you my 5-S's - my all-time favorite tomatoes for salads, salsa, sandwiches, sauces, and soups. These are tomatoes I have grown and would grow again - just give me more garden and fewer tomato varieties that I have not yet grown. You should be able to find many of these at local nurseries or garden centers, but some you will have to put on your list of tomatoes to order online next winter.

Salad Tomatoes

There are two choices when it comes to salad tomatoes. Choose large, plump beefsteak tomatoes to soak up the flavor or vinaigrette and add texture to a salad. Or choose small cherry tomatoes for color, sweetness, and a fruit that will hold its shape.

Brandywine: exceptional rich flavor, succulent; pink, creamy flesh. Amish heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 80 days after transplanting.

Costoluto Fiorentino: high sugar and high acid content makes for terrific tomato taste. Italian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 80 days after transplanting.

German Pink: meaty, almost seedless. German heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 85 days after transplanting.

Golden Gem: high sugar content, golden-yellow. Chinese hybrid; indeterminate; harvest 65 days after transplanting.

Marmande: full, rich flavor. French heirloom; open-pollinated; semi-determinate; harvest 70 days after transplanting.

Red Cherry: sweet flavor. Heirloom; open-pollinated; semi-determinate; harvest 65 days after transplanting.

Riesebtraube: big tomato taste, grape-sized fruit. German heirloom; open-pollinated; harvest 80 days after transplanting.

Salsa Tomatoes

For fresh salsa you will want a plump, meaty tomato.

Big Boy: meaty flesh, great flavor. Hybrid; indeterminate; harvest 78 days after transplanting.

Druzba: balanced sweet and tart flavor, smooth flesh. Bulgarian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 80 days after transplanting.

Eva's Purple Ball: sweet and juicy flavor; smooth, pink flesh. German heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 70 days after transplanting.

Mule Team: bright red, excellent flavor and texture, long harvest. American heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 80 days after transplanting.

Stupice: sweet, satisfying tomato flavor and early to harvest. Czechoslovakian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 52 days after transplanting.

Sandwich Tomatoes

Choose big, meaty beefsteak tomatoes for sandwiches and hamburgers. These tomatoes are wider than they are long and are perfectly suited for slicing.

Beefsteak (also called Red Ponderosa and Crimson Cushion): mild and sweet flavor, thick flesh. American heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 90 days after transplanting.

Box Car Willie: delicious tomato flavor. American heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 80 days after transplanting.

Cherokee Purple: Sweet, rich, delicious flavor. Tennessee heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 80 days after transplanting

Hillbilly: Sweet, fruity flavor. West Virginia heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 85 days after transplanting.

Mortgage Lifter: sweet flavor and meaty. West Virginia heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 85 days after transplanting.

Sauce Tomatoes

Choose a ripe plum tomato that has a good balance between flesh and juice. You will also want a savory tomato. San Marzano is the Italian favorite for sauces.

Juliet: Full tomato flavor - high in both acid and sugar. All-America Selection hybrid; indeterminate; harvest 60 days after transplanting.

Roma: Perhaps the most popular canning and sauce tomato - of all-time. Bright red 3-inch fruit, meaty and flavorful. Open-pollinated; determinate; harvest 78 days from transplanting.

San Marzano: mild flavor, meaty texture. Italian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 80 days after transplanting.

Soup Tomatoes

Tomatoes for soup are almost always pureed; look for ripeness and deep flavor. Add cherry tomatoes for extra sweetness.

Principe Borghese: meaty with little juice and few seeds. Italian heirloom; open-pollinated; determinate; harvest 75 days after transplanting.

San Marzano: mild flavor, meaty texture. Italian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; harvest 80 days after transplanting.

A Couple of Notes

Indeterminate tomatoes are vining tomatoes; they will require staking or caging and some pinching or pruning to keep in line. Determinate tomatoes are bush-sized tomatoes; they are well-suited for small gardens and containers.

Open-pollinated varieties are plants whose seed will grow true next year; just save and dry the seed for planting next year. Hybrid varieties often do not grow true.

Finally, note that I have given you the days to harvest from transplanting. If you are growing tomatoes from seed, add another 40 days to germinate your seeds and grow the seedlings to transplantable size.