Are you proud of what’s coloring up the garden this year? Are you wondering if all the time, energy and money you have spent on growing the perfect tomato is worth it? Perhaps it’s time for an outside opinion. Perhaps it’s time for a tomato tasting.
Hugely popular in recent years, the tomato tasting party is not just an event for young urban hipsters sporting huge beards and curiously naked ankles. Ancient Generation X gardeners such as myself have also been known to throw tomato tasting parties with far better wine and musical choices; and let’s be honest, the Baby Boomers probably invented the damn thing but didn’t know at the time they needed to trademark the idea along with breastfeeding and pickle crocks.
It works something like this:
Grow some tomatoes, preferably more than seven or eight varieties, a mixture of ubiquitous hybrid and sanctimonious heirloom.
Set a date in August or September.
Invite some friends over who can add more variety to the tomato line up and have a high opinion of their own palates.
Make it a tomato-themed potluck so you can still enjoy it.
Pray your tomatoes are not eaten, disfigured or diseased in the interim.
Fill in any gaps at the local farmers’ market the day of.
Cut up the tomatoes, provide toothpicks, set out some labels (and if you’re clever, a seed packet or two). Provide some water to cleanse those delicate palates and a high-acidity white wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc to keep conversation rolling.
Make sure everyone knows that it’s not a competition. It’s for the purposes of enjoyment. And, if you’re writing off the wine purchase, research.
Crank up the retro Brazilian samba on your turntable, ensuring you go down in the books as the hippest of trend-setting hosts. Don’t ruin it by calling your turntable a phonograph.
Enjoy yourself. I promise you will.
It’s all about fresh, local tomatoes
Carefully dislodging my tongue from its position in my cheek, I will admit that tomato tastings can be managed just as well with a gallon of Gallo and a Neil Young collection, or indeed, with a case of Budweiser and whoever is currently starting their pop careers with a stint in crossover country. However, it can’t happen without tomatoes.
It’s truly a seasonal party. For no matter how colorful that Costco clamshell of tomato flavored pebbles is in January, it’s not fresh, it’s not local, and it’s not picked at the peak of perfection.
These things actually matter.
Pitting tomato against tomato
Tomato tastings allow you and your guests to come to some sort of consensus over questions that continue to plague the First World:
Is a San Marzano truly a better paste tomato than a Roma? Is there such thing as a crack-free Brandywine? Does size matter? The more tomatoes you’ve got, the more questions can be answered.
And for Heaven’s sake, don’t be snobby about your entries – doing so will make it impossible to answer that most basic of questions: Is a Better Boy really better?
Encourage your guests to be creative with their tomato dishes (from cocktails to dessert, all things are possible).
Encourage your guests not to be picky by reminding them periodically that they are adults.
Encourage your guests to be truthful when evaluating flavor and texture. This is difficult if they are standing next to someone who exudes tomato confidence, but easier as the evening goes on and more wine is consumed. In vino veritas est.
Red, purple, orange, green or gold?
I for one will be thankful for some answers in a couple weeks. I’m currently growing 20 tomato plants this year in 17 shades of flavor. Some are absolutely gorgeous (Midnight Snack), some are sweeter than sweet (Sun Gold), some are curiosities (German Red Strawberry), others come highly recommended by garden writers more ancient than I (Carmello).
I’ve got two-for-one patio tomatoes (Take Two Blockbuster), a slew of Monticello pastes (presumably Thomas Jefferson made a mean marinara), and watch daily the fruit of the most expensive seeds I have ever bought (Black Beauty). Add a Brad’s Atomic Grape into the mix and sparks (and opinions) should fly. Oh Happy Day! That, incidentally is yet another.
It’s summertime. Let’s enjoy it while we can with one of the most versatile vegetables the New World ever provided the Old. Eating raw potatoes on a hot August night just can’t compare.
What are YOU growing this year and how does it stack up? Please, comment below and tell me what I need to try next spring.
Thank you for the publicity for All-America Selections.
Thanks for sharing these tomato tasting ideas with us. I planted “Bonnie’s Best” tomato plants and I am very disappointed. Last year I planted Early Girl and Big Boys. My tomatoes this year aren’t getting very big and they have hard cores in the middle. I know we’ve had peculiar weather – almost freezing temps in late May and very hot days in July – I live in the Shenandoah Valley. I’ve been watering and added calcium to the soil, but they’re just not getting big. Any suggestions?
Those crazy hot days in July after cooler temperatures could be the cause of your issue with white cores – that’s when I see this problem myself. It’s been an interesting season for us – tons of summer rain (TONS!) which has led to a lot of splitting and a watery first crop. I’ve actually moved out my tomato tasting to later in September to be able to pick from the second and third ripenings of indeterminate varieties. Sometimes these problems work themselves out as the season progresses and there is little the gardener can do other than provide good soil, good pH levels and make sure there is adequate water. When you see the problem over several seasons in the garden is when you’ve got to take a hard look at grower-controlled conditions. For instance, last year my tomatoes at this point were pock marked with stink bug scars. Not so much this year.
What did you think of the Midnight Snack tomatoes, both for taste and disease resistance? Thanks
Hi Barbara – I loved Midnight Snack – no hyperbole there. It was a beautiful tomato on the vine and in the bowl, it outperformed others late into the season (just picked my last ones yesterday, 11/2, before pulling out vines), and the taste was very good. Not as sweet as Sungold, but a good tomato taste.
How was the Black Beauty? Did you/would you grow it again? It is expensive so I was interested in your thoughts before I order the seeds.
Hi Lisa – the flavor was good, on the acidic side – a very beautiful black with a red/green interior. Not a ‘perfect tomato’ in terms of shape – but I will say that it was hands down the hardiest of my tomatoes – lasting well into October. The seeds ARE expensive, I still have 10 🙂 Not super crazy prolific. I’m not growing it this year as I like to give room to new tomato varieties and my go-to canning and eating favorites. But I could change my mind…. Hope this helps!