The Tomato Report 2012

Seed catalogs have been arriving in my mailbox for two months now, and in another two months tomato seedlings will be coming up in the greenhouse. For all of us northerners who start our summer vegetables from seed, it’s time to consider which varieties to order, or re-order, or beg from friends in the next few weeks. For my record and, I hope, a little help with your own choices, here is the fourth installment of my annual Tomato Report. For reports from prior years, click here.

Although we had another cool summer in 2012, unusually dry, warm weather in September and October made for an abundant and disease-free tomato harvest. All the varieties that produced well in 2011 did so again in 2012. This year’s report focuses on  two varieties that were new to my garden as well as the year’s standouts.

indigo rose, croppedIndigo Rose, a new selection from Jim Myers of Oregon State University, is a large cherry tomato that’s purple—eggplant purple, not muddy purple like a “black” tomato—with a green patch on the bottom side. When the tomato ripens, the green patch turns orange-red. My single plant set fruit early, but the fruits hung hard on the vine all summer before finally ripening in early October. Harvest was a bit of trouble, since I had to either lie on the ground looking up to see the red patches or else palpate each tomato. Although the fruits looked pretty in mixed-tomato salads, their flavor was uninteresting. If I grow Indigo Rose again, I’ll try it in a green-tomato pickle.

Developed by Jim Baggett at Oregon State University, Siletz produces medium-size red tomatoes, supposedly very reliably in our region. My friend Sally started my single Siletz plant. Although it was bigger and sturdier and quicker to set fruit than all the seedlings I started myself, the fruits were few and slow to ripen. I may try this cultivar again another year.

Jersey Devil tomatoJersey Devil ripened well this year, unlike in 2011. This horn-shaped tomato, about 5 inches long, has deep red, very meaty flesh that’s surprisingly sweet and tart.

Anna Russian was once again my biggest producer of large tomatoes. (See a description of this oxheart tomato in my 2011 report. My friend Sally, who grew Anna Russian for the first time this year, had great success with it as well.

Again I grew loads of Jaune Flamme, the French heirloom with the creamy orange-yellow flesh. For some reason many of the fruits were quite small, not much larger than an inch in diameter. Could Jaune Flamme have crossed with a yellow cherry? I don’t see how.

My other big producer, as usual, was little Juliet, a hybrid (see my 2009 report).

Varieties I may try for the first time in 2013 include two I tasted at the home of my friend Lisa: Sungold, a yellow cherry tomato with a tropical tang, and Purple Cherokee, a delicious black tomato similar to Carbon. I may also try a tomato recommended by Martin Smith: Ramapo, an old hybrid from Rutgers University. And I must get some more seeds of Black Prince (see my 2011 report), which I missed last year.

Oxhearts from the Garden

While last summer’s blackened tomato vines still hang on their bamboo trellises, the seed catalogs are starting to arrive in my mailbox. Before I get absorbed in dreams of next year’s crop, I need to take stock of this year’s successes and failures.

It’s time to update my running, year-by-year tomato report, which I’m writing with my friend Sally and sharing with whoever cares to read it. Because it seems unfair to judge a tomato variety that I’ve grown only in a year when summer never came (as happened here in western Oregon), I’ll reserve some judgments until next year. But there’s one find I want to share: the oxheart tomato.

The oxheart isn’t a single variety; it’s a group of varieties with common characteristics and, apparently, common European breeding. Many have names like Orange Russian and Hungarian Heart. The vines are usually indeterminate—sprawling and continuously productive—and the foliage tends to be fern-like. Most of the available varieties are very old; none of them, as far as I’ve discovered, is a hybrid.

But it’s the fruit you care about, right? Typically it’s shaped like a heart or a strawberry, though individual tomatoes and some oxheart varieties may be round or oblong. The fruit tends to be big; ‘Bull’s Heart’ is said to grow to 2 pounds and larger, and ‘Giant’ to 3 pounds. And here’s what’s really important about these tomatoes: They are solid, meaty, with few seeds, and yet they are fairly acidic, juicy, and tasty. They are often described as fragrant.

Cooks making salsa and tomato sauce, and especially tomato paste, are often advised to use dense-fleshed plum tomatoes such as ‘Roma’ or ‘San Marzano’. Face it, though: These tomatoes taste bland and cottony, however local and organic they may be. What a joy to find a tomato that’s both meaty and delicious.

Oxheart tomatoes are most often pinkish, but some varieties are tomato-red, orange, or yellow. ‘Verna Orange’ is said to be the same color inside as a persimmon. And now there’s a bi-colored oxheart. Developed by Jeff Dawson of California, it’s a cross between ‘Georgia Streak’, a red and yellow beefsteak tomato, and the oxheart variety ‘Russian 117’. Dawson’s creation is called ‘Orange Russian 117’, and it’s my great tomato find of 2010.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a lot of fruits on my ‘Orange Russian 117’ vines. In such a cool summer, I got few tomatoes of any sort. But Mandy of Mandy’s Greenhouse, who grows quite a lot of oxheart varieties under cover in Manitoba, suggests that they generally aren’t very prolific. No matter; for next year I’ll choose an oxheart variety that is prolific, such as ‘Anna’s Russian’, an Oregon find. And I’ll continue to plant ‘Orange Russian 117’, if only for its beautiful slices.