In the Garden:
Upper South
August, 2004
Regional Report

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'Persimmon' tomatoes have great flavor and sometimes great size. This one weighed over 2 pounds.

And the Winner is ...

Every year in my vegetable garden I try to grow as many different varieties as possible so I can compare growth habit, pest resistance, production, and flavor. This year I grew 28 varieties of tomatoes, both modern and heirloom. One day in mid-July, crawling on the ground and peeking up into the lush growth filling the cages, I spotted a very large, yellow-orange tomato. Carefully, I snipped the stem from the plant.

This guy, a 'Persimmon' tomato to be exact, was huge. It weighed in at 2 pounds, 14 ounces. Then a light bulb went off in my head. For many years a local business had conducted a weekly contest for the biggest tomato. Surely, this monster would win, especially at this time of year. I am now enjoying my prize, a box of chocolates.

Although 'Persimmon' is reported to take as long to ripen (80 to 90 days) as most large tomatoes, obviously this plant was precocious as it started ripening much earlier than similar varieties in my garden. It has great flavor, with thick flesh and few seeds. It continues to produce large fruit, albeit none as big as that first one.

The Best Big Guy
Although giant tomatoes are fun, what most of us want is a great flavored, consistent producer of 10- to 16-ounce fruit. Some of the varieties I tried this year are 'Thessaloniki', 'Dona', 'Black Krim', 'Carmello', 'Double Rich' (high in vitamin C), and 'Caro Rich' (high in vitamin A). As in the past, the 'Double Rich' and 'Caro Rich' remain shy producers. If you want their benefits, you'll need to grow extra plants. The real surprise was how much difference there was in flavor between the other varieties. 'Carmello' was the clear champion.

A Cherry on Top
Here's a confession: I find most cherry tomatoes boring. I eliminated varieties that I had already tried from my list. This year's contestants included 'Juliet', 'Peacevine', and 'Rose Quartz'. 'Juliet', which looks like a miniature paste tomato, exhibited the usual cherry-type rampant growth and bland flavor. Nor did I get the alleged soporific effect ascribed to 'Peacevine'. (Just how many do you have to eat?) But all visitors to the garden fell in love with 'Rose Quartz'. A Japanese hybrid, it has a lovely rosy pink color and rich tomato flavor.

Paste One On
Since I like to make my own salsa and spaghetti sauce, comparing paste tomatoes was also on my list. Using recent magazine article comparisons as my springboard, I tried 'Big Mama', 'Opalka', and 'Polish Linguisa'. 'Big Mama' is the winner for this year. 'Druzba', a Polish heirloom, is not considered a paste tomato, but it is so meaty and flavorful that I would grow it again for this purpose.

Green Is In
At a tomato tasting several years ago I fell in love with tomatoes that retain their green flesh when ripe (the skin turns yellowish). For me, they taste like I think a tomato should taste -- sweet, tart, and rich, all at once. Comparisons included the much-touted 'Aunt Ruby's German Green', 'Emerald', 'Green Moldavan', 'Green Zebra', 'Green Grape', and 'Greenwich'. A British heirloom from the early 1900s, 'Greenwich' had far superior production and flavor. I would grow 'Green Zebra' again, just because it's so pretty.

Also Worth Considering
The beautiful red and yellow swirls of 'Pineapple' make it an every-year variety. 'Lemon Boy' remains my favorite yellow tomato; 'Yellow Perfection' isn't, and 'Wapsipinicon Peach' is only so-so. Nor would I bother with 'Rose de Berne' or 'Flamme' again. 'Stupice' lives up to its press as a great early tomato that keeps on producing, while 'Vita Gold' is a worthwhile saladette tomato, especially with its high beta-carotene content.

Those are the results for this year. As I munch on my chocolates, I'm considering which ones to try next year.


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