I see I haven’t written one of these reports since 2015. That’s because I’ve settled on favorite varieties and and grown them year after year. But friends are always urging me to try different cultivars, and so this year I tried a few that were entirely new to me, along with others I’d grown in the past and forgotten about. Here is my report.
De Berao Braun, left, and Purple Russian, right.
Purple Russian. This Ukranian heirloom, which I wrote about 2015, is sold by Baker Creek and Totally Tomato. The pinkish-greenish fruits, about 3½ inches long and 6 ounces in weight, are impressively uniform in size and shape. The cultivar is supposedly very productive; I found it slow to start fruiting but unusually prolific late in the season. All of these late tomatoes, however, were deeply cracked, even though I’d long since stopped watering and we’d had no rain to speak of. Baker Creek says Purple Russian has “flavor that tops the charts,” and one person compared the flavor to bacon. I found the tomatoes a little bland, nothing like bacon, and too low in acid. All of the Purple Russian slices I dried turned black in the dehydrator, while none of the other varieties did. Perhaps the Purple Russians were too ripe. As I noted in 2015, they taste best when picked while still quite firm.
De Berao Braun. Andrew Still and Sarah Kleeger, of Adaptive Seeds, got this cultivar from Gerhard Bohl, a seed steward in Germany (I don’t know where the seeds originally came from; the name looks to me like a misspelling). The fruits are smaller than those of Purple Russian, about 2½ inches long, and rounder. The color is similar to that of Purple Russian but more copper and therefore more attractive, at least to me. The tomatoes are juicy, tart, and sweet, and as suitable for salad as for drying or sauce. They are far less prone to cracking than Purple Russians, and the vines have continued to produce unblemished fruit through late October. I will definitely plant this variety again.
Italian Heirloom. I got the seeds for this one from Lisa Almarode, who urged me to try them. Like me, you might expect this to be another plum-shaped paste tomato. But Italian Heirloom has big, irregular, round to heart-shaped fruits. Although they are meaty, they are also tasty; they won the Seed Savers Exchange tomato tasting in 2012. The plant is extremely productive and early. I picked my first fruit, weighing a pound, on July 17, and in early August I picked a 1½-pounder.
Chocolate Stripes. I am no less enthusiastic about this tomato than I was in 2015. In late October, I am still getting fruits as big as 4 ½ inches across. Their thin skins are prone to damage from snails and slugs and may develop fine cracks around the top, but I cut out any blemishes and thoroughly enjoy these beautiful fruits. It’s lucky I set my one plant in a corner of a bed this year, because this vine likes to sprawl.
Chocolate Stripes seeds are sold by Baker Creek, Tomato Fest, and other companies.
Druzba. I wrote a little about this tomato in 2014, but now I’m even more enthusiastic about it. This Bulgarian heirloom, whose name means “friendly,” produces perfectly uniform, unblemished, round medium-size fruits, about 6 ounces, all season long. (Celebrity, which I grew alongside it, did pretty much the same thing, although Celebrity’s fruits are a little bigger, about 8 ounces. The important difference is that Celebrity is a hybrid; if I save the seeds, the plants that grow from them may lose disease-resistance and other good features.) The fruits’ flavor isn’t special, but it’s very good. This is the tomato you give to people who won’t eat fruit that doesn’t look like it came from a supermarket. They will learn what those supermarket tomatoes are supposed to taste like.
Druzba seeds are widely available.
Ananas Noire. This is a Belgian variety introduced in 2005, a cross between Pineapple and a black tomato. For me Ananas Noire produced big fruits (1 to 1½ pounds) that were more green than black, with dark red streaks throughout. The tomatoes looked beautiful when sliced, but if I hadn’t taken a picture in July I wouldn’t remember this. Now, in late October, the fruits are small and a uniform orange-red. Has anyone reading this had a similar experience?
Seeds of Ananas Noire are sold by Baker Creek, Territorial, Totally Tomato, and other companies.
Orange Russian 117. I’ve grown this tomato over several summers, beginning in 2010. A cross between the red oxheart Russian 117 and the yellow and red beefsteak Georgia Streak, Orange Russian 117 is probably the only bicolored oxheart around. It is a meaty tomato, and big, weighing from 8 ounces to a pound. The texture and colors remind me of peaches–I gasp at the beauty of the fruit every time I slice one. The flavor is very good. On the farm I never got more than a dozen fruits from one of these plants (probably because I was battling deer during those years), but this year Orange Russian 117 has been one of my most productive tomato plants–perhaps the most productive. In late October the plant is still going strong.
Orange Russian 117 was bred by Jeff Dawson of Sebastopol, California, in the 1990s. Seeds are available from Tomato Fest, Tomato Growers Supply, and a few other sources.