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Tomato (Mania!) Guide

Sarah West

Each year around the height of tomato season, the market hosts one of our most popular events: Tomato Mania. Volunteers gather tomatoes from market vendors, slice them into samples, and spread them out with labels that state the variety name and the vendor that supplied it. It’s a marvelous way to explore the range of tomatoes available at the market, savoring old favorites and finding new ones. Below is a preview of some of the varieties we expect to be sampling this Sunday.

Assorted Cherry Tomatoes: Sweet, bite-sized, and available in a rainbow of colors, the cherry tomato category also broadly includes pear tomatoes (shaped like their namesake fruit), grape tomatoes (larger than a typical cherry tomato), and currant tomatoes (smaller than a typical cherry tomato). Bright yellow-orange ‘Sungolds’ are one of the market’s most popular varieties—possibly the sweetest, most addictive cherry tomatoes you’ll ever taste! Cherry tomatoes are best eaten fresh: out of hand, topping salads, or folded into pasta just before serving.

Purple Calabash: Green shouldered, pleated fruits with a distinctive flatness. Their flesh is nearly true purple and offers full flavor and well-balanced acidity some liken to a fruity cabernet. Delicious fresh or cooked; a popular variety at last year’s Tomato Mania!

Striped Roman: One of the flashier tomatoes out there, this one has it all: sweet, rich flavor and fantastic color make ‘Striped Roman’ a marvelous fresh tomato for the salad plate. Like its cousin the red Roma, its meaty flesh cooks down easily into sauce—some say this variety makes the sweetest.

Oregon Star: A variety bred in the early 1990’s by Oregon State University, ‘Oregon Star’ is like a large, nearly seedless paste tomato. Its dense, flavorful flesh is perfect for simmering into a quick sauce, and the low ratio of skin to tomato flesh cuts down on prep work for larger sauce batches. ‘Oregon Star’ tomatoes are juicy and flavorful eaten fresh: they make a great tabbouleh  or salsa tomato, and are perfect for salads and sandwiches. Another customer favorite from previous Tomato Manias!

Copia: Sweet and juicy, ‘Copia’ are a cross between ‘Green Zebra’ and ‘Marvel Stripe’ that was developed in Napa, CA with chefs in mind. It’s red and yellow striping extends to the interior flesh, resulting in gorgeous marbling when sliced. Selected for flavor as well as beauty, ‘Copia’ are perfect for any occasion you want a show-stopping tomato to take center stage.

Cherokee Purple: This true heirloom (meaning it is not a recently developed cross of tomato characteristics but a strain whose seeds have been passed through generations of gardeners) plays up the savory side of tomato flavor: deep, rich, and earthy. Its purple skin fades to a saturated red in the tomato’s center. Curious about those green shoulders? Turns out they are a sign of superior flavor. The same genes that cause green shoulders in tomatoes are responsible for developing complexity and sweetness. The green parts may ripen much later than the rest of the tomato—don’t expect full ripening and peak flavor to coincide. Cut off the green and slice this heirloom favorite up for dinner!

Black Brandywine: The original pink ‘Brandywine’ tomato was once the poster child of heirloom tomatoes; these days it has a lot more company, but it’s still delicious! ‘Black Brandywine’ is a selection from the original strain: similar rich flavor with skin blushed purplish-brown. Great for fresh eating or cooking.

Yellow Brandywine: A yellow selection of the ‘Brandywine’ heirloom, revered for its surprisingly rich flavor and balance of sweetness and acidity. Best fresh, ‘Yellow Brandywine’ adds a lighter touch to sauces or salsas.



Beefsteak: More a category of tomato than a specific variety, beefsteak tomatoes are all the name implies: large, meaty, full-flavored, and perfect for serving in thick slabs just like a steak. These are the classic sandwich slicers. ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’ fall into the beefsteak category. Red varieties are often labeled as beefsteak tomatoes rather than by the cultivar name because it is a more recognizable label.

Roma: A type of plum tomato, ‘Roma’ and similar varieties are the quintessential sauce tomato. Their drier flesh and smaller seed cavities concentrate into perfect sauce and are ideal for halving and slow roasting in a low temperature oven. Synonymous with Italy, these are the home-preserver’s tomato of choice for canning whole and as sauces, ketchup, or pastes.