One of the most popular end-of-growing season contests are the tomato taste contests held around the country.
The folks at Earthly Delights farm in Northwest Boise added a twist to their tomato contest, designating certain categories for their recent competition: sweetest, tangiest, prettiest, weirdest and overall best. Tomatoes grow differently in different parts of the world, even different parts of the Valley, and of course tastes differ. Popularity of tomato varieties changes, too, but many winners and losers appear so regularly that theyre no surprise.
Lemon Drop cherry tomatos won the Earthly Delights sweetest contest according to Casey OLeary, an owner of Earthly Delights. The description in the Totally Tomatoes seed catalog, that of a sweet-tart yellow tomato produced abundantly on trusses, sounds like it could be a re-named Lollipop tomato, a variety Ive grown every year for many years. Its my favorite garden snack. (Seeds for Lollipop tomato are carried by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.)
This Boise competition attracted over 100 entrants. Green Zebra was judged the tangiest tomato. Its an open-pollinated, striped tomato, yellowish-green when ripe, bred by Tom Wagner, who now lives in Everett, Wash. It often ranks very high in taste tests across the country, but the fact that its development hasnt enriched Wagner is a cautionary tale to plant breeders.
A tie between Big Rainbow and Indigo Rose developed in the contest for prettiest tomato. Indigo Rose is a new variety on the market, conventionally bred by Jim Myers at Oregon State University to be exceptionally rich in anthocyanins. These tomatoes are plum-sized and dark purple-colored. Big Rainbow is a bicolor, principally golden-orange with red striping on the bottom and in the flesh.
None of us are accustomed to purple tomatoes, so its not surprising that Indigo Rose also won the weirdest designation.
Overall best was a yellow tomato called Moon Glow, perhaps originally from Hungary, according to Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook. Moon Glow is a large yellow tomato with excellent flavor.
A few years ago, a large yellow tomato called Hughs was hugely popular, winning taste tests around the country. A Boise friend grew it, found it rotted quite easily, and didnt like the tomato. She gave me her seeds. I grew it the next year, and the first ripe tomato I picked apparently rotted in the three minutes between being picked and getting indoors. I gave the seeds to another friend, the late Dick Wilson, who grew that tomato and was favorably impressed.
It was the same packet of seeds. Wilsons soil near Five Mile was just different from mine on the second bench and the first seed owners at river level.
Moon Glow is said to hold well after its picked, a major advantage over Hughs. It also won the heirloom tomato tasting contest at Heritage Farm, owned by Seed Savers organization, in 2007.
Hugh has fallen out of favor now the black tomatoes are hot. Theyre not really black, but when the tomato starts to turn red, the green color remains, and its the combination of red and green pigments that make the tomato appear brownish-black.
A friend in Atlanta raved about the variety called Black from Tula. I grew it, but it wasnt nearly as good or prolific here as Black Krim. The interior, by the way, is a very rich brick red, the flavor full and luscious. Cherokee Purple and Paul Robeson, also black tomatoes, produce very well here, too, and are very tasty. I dont recommend canning any of the black tomatoes; they look rotten in a jar.
The best-flavored tomato I ever grew was a Dinner Plate tomato. In later years, attempts to grow great Dinner Plate tomatoes ended in failure. I never grew one that tasted as good as that first one.
Brandywines, Sudduths strain (dark pink) and Platfoot strain (yellow) often win these contests, but in my garden, the red Brandywine tasted better and produced better than the other strains. The true Brandywines (pink and the yellow one) have potato leaves, the red has regular tomato leaves.
Comrade Volkov is a consistent winner, and so are Cherokee Purple, Paul Robeson, Mortgage Lifter, Mariannas Peace, Sungold, Pink Sweet, Kelloggs Breakfast and others. Sungold is an alleged hybrid cherry tomato, but its seeds seem to produce true to the parent tomato. Two that Ive had great raves about are Prudens Purple (thought to have Brandywine somewhere in its heritage) and Red Peach. The peach tomatoes, such as Wapsinicon Peach, have a peach fuzz skin rather than the glossy skin.
Red or pink peach (I see no difference in color between them) is the best-flavored of the peach tomatoes, in my opinion. Theyre small salad tomatoes that grow on an indeterminate plant.
Send garden questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.