— Nan Sterman
With tomatoes ripening now, it’s a great time to taste test the many different types, learn their best uses, and decide which to grow next summer. Here’s a tutorial.
Slicing (Beefsteak) tomatoes produce very large, often crenulated fruits, often large enough for a single slice to cover an entire hamburger.
Plum (aka paste, Roma, processing, saladette) tomatoes are oval or cylindrical with meaty walls and not many seeds. These tomatoes are bred to be less “juicy” than other types of tomatoes which makes them suited for cooking, canning, juicing, or preparing in salsas and gazpachos.
Grape tomatoes are on the size scale of cherry tomatoes but with firmer flesh, though not as firm and meaty as plum tomatoes. Grape tomatoes are slightly sweeter and a bit juicier than plums, too. These perfect “pop in your mouth” tomatoes are typically red but sometimes yellow.
Cherry tomatoes range from large marble size to as small as a pea. The smallest are sometimes called “currant” tomatoes. One of the most popular is a yellow cherry called ‘Sun Gold.’ There are also black cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes grow on large, indeterminate plants that need support to keep from becoming huge, impenetrable mounds.
Pear (teardrop) tomatoes are small like grape tomatoes, but more pear shaped than plum tomatoes. These medium skinned, sweet tomatoes often don’t make it from the garden to the kitchen (i.e. I eat them all on the way). Yellow and red pear shaped tomatoes are most common. Plants tend to be indeterminate.
Plant sizes and forms
Indeterminate (aka climbing) tomatoes grow huge. These plants need to be staked, trellised, or caged for support. Thin branches so plants don’t become too dense. Fruits ripen over a long season so you have an extended harvest from each plant.
Determinate (aka bush) varieties are shorter stature and not as vine-like as indeterminate tomatoes. There’s no need to thin branches (though you can). Fruits ripen over a short time (as short as a week to ten days), making determinate varieties a good choice for canning, freezing, drying, and other processing
Container (aka “dwarf”) varieties are determinate tomato plants bred to be very compact. Their fruit size and production can be as big as the larger plants.
Other Tomato Terms
Heirloom varieties were introduced before 1940. Their fruits are identical (in terms of size, color, and flavor) from one year to the next.
Maturation or “days to maturity” supposedly describes the number of days between transplant and harvest. Those numbers are strictly rule of thumb indicators of when in the season the tomatoes will ripen The shortest “days to maturity” will ripen early in the season; the longest “days to maturity” will ripen last. Another scale you’ll see is “Very Early Season” (extra early)which ripen earliest, followed by Early Season, then Mid Season, then Late Season. To harvest tomatoes all through summer, chose varieties in each category.
Colors of tomatoes range from red, to orange, yellow, green, black, chocolate, pink, striped, even spotted.
© Nan Sterman,2012