Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Tomatoes We Grow

Michigan's Western Upper Peninsula is a challenging place to grow tomatoes. It is not unheard of (though, thankfully, also not very common) for this area to experience freezing temperatures in July. Ick.

For that reason, a few tricks are necessary if you want to ensure a yearly supply of luscious ripe tomatoes. We grow most of ours in the hoophouse. In chilly years, when the high temperature seems to stay below seventy degrees all summer long, the hoophouse is the only place tomatoes will ripen up here. In warm years, like this one, the hoophouse offers us an extended season for growing our heat loving favorites.

We grow several different tomato varieties, including both heirlooms and hybrids. They range from standard bright red slicers, to dusky brownish-mauve cherries.

If you are only familiar with the red varieties, it can be hard to tell when a brown (or peach, or orange...) tomato is at its peak. We try very hard to offer only the most perfect specimens to our market customers and CSA members, but if you are not sure if your tomato is ready for eating, or you just want to know what you're munching on, check out the following list of tomatoes we grow for more information.

Black Prince
These relatively small slicing tomatoes ripen to a brownish red with army green shoulders. Inside, they are green, brown, red, and meltingly delicious. An heirloom variety from Irktusk Siberia, black prince tomatoes are fantastic for salads, sandwiches, and are even meaty enough to cook into a sauce.

Brown Berry
Brown berries are large cherry tomatoes with the colors of an early fall sunset. They have the same sophisticated tomato flavor of large black slicers (which are very long season varieties that take lots of heat to ripen - hard for us to grow even in the hoophouse) but they come in a convenient bite sized package. Pop them in your mouth whole, or slice them in half, drizzle with oil and vinegar, and add to a salad of greens or other tomatoes.

Cosmonaut Volkov
These are the show stopper, fire engine red, perfect for a BLT, slicer tomatoes that we grow. The one in the photograph is one of the bigger specimens, but even the small ones are substantial. Cosmonaut Volkov is a Ukrainian heirloom variety that always delivers. Expect to see this variety at Wintergreen Farm for many years to come. We will grow them until we are no longer capable of planting tomato seeds.

Garden Peach

This heirloom tomato first became available in New York in 1890. With its blushed peach skin, slight fuzz, and delicate fruity flavor, for over a century the garden peach has been billed as a novelty tomato. I think this does it a disservice as this tasty tomato deserves significant respect. It's small, but packs a lot of fabulous flavor for a salad or sandwich and it keeps well off the vine.

The story is that these little guys (the red ones in the photo, the others are garden peach) were actually bred by Heinz for processing. So, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the flavor is a bit flat. This is the first year we have grown them, and we haven't reached a final verdict. They do seem to be producing a lot of nice paste tomatoes. We shall see, tell us what you think of them please.

These small, grape shaped tomatoes appear at first to be just another cherry tomato, but they are actually so much more. These very small paste tomatoes are exactly the thing that we have been searching for. A heavy yielding, short season tomato that can be used with abandon for salads, fresh sauces, canned sauces, and even drying. These ripen to a lovely orange red and beg to be experimented with. The plants are currently loaded with green fruits. We'll report further as soon as we have had the chance to try preserving some. 

Sun Cherry
These little red charmers are sweet and attractive. Sun cherries are the perfect red cherry tomato for snacking, salads, or slicing and sauteing with some herbs and green beans.

Sun Gold
The sun gold cherry tomato is one of few hybrid tomato varieties to reach household name status (at least among tomato geek households). It is also the one tomato for which I reserve the term "jewel-like", a phrase many seed catalogs like to use when describing tomato varieties. Sun golds ripen to a translucent orange hue, have a sweet, almost tropical, flavor, and are perfect for eating by the handful, enjoying in a salad, or cooking lightly. They hold their shape and texture very well when added to stir fries or sautes. They are also short season and prolific, so they are the only tomato variety we chose to plant both in and out of the hoophouse this year. As the season progresses we should be harvesting quite a few of these beauties.

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