Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tomato Jungle

My late-summer garden is a tangle of tomato plants. I've been picking the cherry varieties for several weeks, but the big slicers, especially the heirloom varieties, are just ripening now. Below are some of the red grape variety, which are not as wonderful-tasting as the hybrid Sun Golds (some are visible at the back), but which have proved much more resistant to splitting after the heavy rains we've had lately. I've had to put dozens of the delicious Sun Golds into the compost pile, but I have also resolved to save some of their seeds since I have so many otherwise going to "waste" (not that contributing to compost can be considered a total waste). When I can tell that they have very recently split and still look fresh I still sometimes try to use them, but if the split has dried or the fruit looks as if it is starting to rot, I consign them to the pile.

I've never dried tomatoes before, but the sweet Sun Golds are so prolific and proved so wonderful on pizza recently that I think I will dry a freezer-bagful. To do this, you wash them and cut them in half, spread them cut-side up (some sources say cut-side down) on a baking sheet, and place in a very slow oven (200 F.) for several hours, until leathery but still pliable. Some recipes call for salting the tomatoes and/or seasoning with Italian herbs before drying them. When properly dried they can be kept in the cupboard in a glass jar, but since this is a judgment call probably best made after some trial and error, I will keep mine in the freezer to avoid any risk of mold that could grow if they are not sufficiently dry. I'd hate to lose any.

Above is a mammoth Striped German heirloom tomato. I picked a similar one already, wrestling it out from between the supports; it more than filled my entire hand and probably weighed more than a pound. Unfortunately, it was so tightly wedged against the tomato behind it and the metal cage wires that it emerged sadly bruised. These have a old-fashioned appearance and are rather ribbed from the outside; they are marvelous to look at when sliced, as their flesh is a lovely yellow with red streaks. I have grown these before, and I think their flavor and texture make them a decent rival for the classic "best-tasting" Brandywines.

Above are Tasty Evergreens, a new variety for me this year, which are also getting quite large. The tag says to pick these when green with a yellow tinge, so after taking this photo I picked the closer one, but I haven't sliced it yet.

And here is the Green Zebra variety, another kind I've not grown before. I couldn't find the planting tag and was wondering how to tell when to pick these, but Johnny's Selected Seeds says they are ripe just as the green fruit develops a yellow blush, as the closer fruit above is starting to do. The photo on Seed Savers Exchange (first link above) seems to show that the main portion of the skin will turn considerably yellower than this, with distinctive green stripes remaining. Either way, these are very attractive. Johnny's notes that these are "not technically an heirloom" but lists them with its other heirlooms.

I bought all my tomato plants at Just Food Co-op's Mother's Day plant sale this year; most of the large, vigorous seedlings were raised by the nice folks at Big Woods Farm.

I've done no fertilizing this year other than digging some purchased compost into the soil before planting. I put down straw mulch, and except where it wasn't thick enough, I've needed to do very little weeding. (Whether I've actually weeded where I needed to is a story better left untold.)

Happy tomato season, everyone.
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cindyzlogic said...

Wow! Your tomatoes are looking really good. We just broke the ground this yr. for our garden. The plants are putting out tomatoes, but still all green. A few cherry tomatoes. Only 1 silly little Cantaloupe. Hope the bugs don't get it : )

dAwN said...

nice! I could use a few of those tomatoes...can u cyber pass them?

RuthieJ said...

My tomatoes are finally ripening too. I canned 5 quarts the other night and there are enough ripening on the counter for another 5 quarts. I'm going to try making some homemade salsa this year too. Oh yeah, and a few Romas cut up and mixed in with fresh cucumbers, a little onion and some Miracle Whip tasted great with supper tonight. I love tomatoes!