Variety Notes–Cherry Tomatoes 2009

Cherry tomatoes 2009I grew five varieties of little tomatoes this year.  As much labor as they are to pick, they’re so lovely and fun that I can’t help but try new varieties as well as keeping around the old varieties.

My number one criteria, as always, is flavor. After that, I look for a nice mix of colors and sizes to make a mixed box look as tempting as can be.

Black Cherry (top basket, big and purple):  This variety is also called “Brown Berry”  or “Chocolate Cherry,” and it is a sort of brownish-reddish-purple.  It’s the largest cherry tomato I grow–still a single bite, but quite mouth-filling and definitely one you have to be careful of when biting down on to avoid that embarrassing tomato juice squirt.

This is the second year I’ve grown this variety, and I like the color, size, and relative ease of picking.  It was pretty beat up by disease this year (and overwhelmed by its neighboring Coyote plant), and didn’t yield that well.  It definitely adds color and size interest to the mixed boxes of little tomatoes.

Red Pear (also top basket): this is a pretty standard heirloom that dries really nicely.  While it doesn’t have the greatest flavor fresh, drying concentrates its flavor.  It is much better tasting, to my mind, than Yellow Pear, which I’ve also grown.

I am developing a thicker-necked strain that isn’t as prone to cracking along the neck, which is a problem with both yellow and red varieties I’ve grown.  Red Pear adds a nice contrast of shape from the other round cherry tomatoes in my mix.

Coyote (bottom left): It’s quicker to say what I don’t like about this new-to-me heirloom than what I do–it is very soft and small, and it splits like crazy when you pick it.  I worked around this by trying to pick with the stems attached, which means it’s slow going to get even a small basket full like this.  I didn’t pick anywhere near all there were on the vines today.

All that aside, there’s no way I’d skip growing this one again because the flavor is fantastic–like nothing you’d expect from a light yellow tomato.  I’ve heard people say that it’s like tomatoes and mushrooms together.  It has the most amazingly rich and deep umami flavor–certainly of any cherry tomato I’ve tasted.  I’ve got a small following now at the Elk Point market because of these beauties.

The plants are completely wild and enormous, and they’re seemingly unstoppable by disease and pests.  Yes, they are a pain to pick, but who cares?  They’re totally worth it, even if you just grow one plant to snack on while working in the garden.

Red Currant (bottom right): This is another heirloom that I tried to grow last year in a really bad place.  So, I tried again this year, and I have to say I’m disappointed.  They are really cute, and although the plants are wildly out of control and they’re a pain to pick like Coyote, the flavor isn’t worth the trouble.  They’re just not that impressive.

I wanted another little red tomato in my mix (to go along with Red Pear), but this isn’t the one.  I’m going to have to look for another (preferably heirloom) with better flavor and maybe that’s less of a pain to pick.

One helpful hint if you do grow these is that when all the fruits underneath the “fountain of foliage” start to ripen, just hack off the top layer of plant to get at them (really–hack it off with a machete).  It doesn’t seem to bother the plant, and then you don’t have to fight the vines so much to get at the fruit.

Sungold Cherry (bottom right): This is the only hybrid tomato I grow, and I’ll keep growing it while I can get the seeds.  I haven’t found another tomato that combines the glowing orange color and fruity flavor that Sungold has.  It’s very tropical on the tongue in contrast with Coyote’s depth and richness.

I’ve been growing Sungold for five years now, and although I’ve had volunteers from the previous season’s dropped fruits–even some that shared its color–they either had bland flavor or slighty tough or mealy texture.

Sungold is a fresh market tomato–it doesn’t store or ship well, and it has a tendency to split when overly ripe (though not so much as Coyote).  But it’s fairly easy to pick and box the day before or day of a farmers market without too many splitting or cracking.

Seed Sources:

Black Cherry: This variety is available through Pinetree Garden Seeds.

Red Pear: I have been saving and refining seed on this variety for a number of years.  Strains of this variety, which is sometimes called “Red Fig,” are available from many seed companies.  May I suggest Seed Savers Exchange?

Coyote: The seed for this variety came from Skyfire Garden Seeds out of Kanopolis, Kansas.  They are a very friendly little mom-and-pop (literally!) operation. I have not seen this variety listed elsewhere in major catalogs.

Red Currant: This came from Pinetree Garden Seeds, which also carries a “Yellow Currant.”

Sungold Cherry (F1): This one comes from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

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