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2015 Tomato Mania! Guide

Sarah West

by Sarah West

Each year at the height of tomato season, the market hosts one of our most popular events: Tomato Mania! Volunteers gather the day’s tomato selection from market vendors, slice them up, and spread them out with labels that state the variety name and the vendor that supplied it—comparison shopping at it’s finest! Take a moment out of your market day to explore the range of tomato flavor, savoring old favorites and discovering new ones. Below is a preview of some of the varieties we expect to be sampling this Sunday.

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.

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.

Aunt Ruby’s German Green: Green tomatoes are always a hard sell since our eyes are conditioned to seek out shades of red when it comes to tomato selection. This particular green tomato will wow you with the intensity of its flavor—rich, tart, and deeply sweet it can stand up to the best of the reds. A favorite slicer among tomato connosuers, it also makes a delicious salsa verde. Listed on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a collection of heirloom seeds of exceptional quality, this is one beloved tomato. Look for those that are blushing a faint pink on the bottom—your cue that Aunt Ruby’s is ready for eating.

Chef’s Choice: An orange beefsteak-type, Chef’s Choice is a new hybrid tomato, an improvement on the popular heirloom, Amana Orange, which offers the same rich flavor with a quicker ripening period. A relatively new introduction, this variety was chosen as an All American Selection in 2013-2015 for its flavor and garden performance.

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.

Rutgers: A New Jersey heirloom introduced in the 1930’s truck farming boom, Rutgers was bred as an improved field tomato: with more uniform ripening, richly flavored juice, small seed cavities, and good yields. Though it fell away from commercial popularity when firmness for shipping became the priority, Rutgers remains popular among home gardeners, who use it for fresh eating and preserving.

Orange Oxheart: Oxheart tomatoes have a reputation for offering the best of both worlds: firm, meaty flesh ideal for making salsa or sauce, along with the fragrant, acidic juiciness so coveted in a slicing tomato. This orange variety is the perfect slicer for sandwiches, fresh sauces, or pizza topping.

Pineapple: This carnival-striped tomato is what summer is all about—full-bodied tomato flavor, rich colors, and enough acidity to keep things interesting. Slice this giant to serve with anything that comes off the grill, or just eat wedges of it with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and the juice dripping down your fingers.

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.