So it’s finally tomato season in the garden, and I’m officially rejoicing. The garlic is harvested and ready to be crushed, the genovese basil leaves are there for the taking, and the olive oil is ready in the pantry…just waiting to be united with the grand dames of the garden—the beautiful, beloved, oft-worshipped big tomatoes. And they’re almost there…the brandywine plants are laden with huge, heavy fruits…the only problem is that they’re still green.
Luckily, there are always the cherry tomatoes—the juicy little mouthfuls of delight that bring in tomato season each year with great aplomb well in advance of their larger sisters. I filled my pockets with a few different varieties when I went on my garden walk this evening, and decided to pause for a moment this evening and take the time to appreciate how they really taste, and how they measure up against one another. And to round out the competitors, I threw in an organic grape cherry variety that I bought at the store several days ago before my own started to ripen up.
Organic store-bought grape tomato from Lady Moon Farms
Firm feel, but a little wrinkly and yellow toward the stem end, as they’re beginning to dehydrate. (As soon you pick a fruit from the vine, it begins the gradual processes of dessication and decomposition, and the longer it sits, the less vitality and nutrition it has available for whoever eats it.) It was a little juicy, with very slight acidity, but seriously low on flavor. (Or, I could say it was extremely mild, if I wanted to be genteel about it.) This is probably partly due to the fact that at this time of year, Lady Moon Farms is most likely shipping tomatoes by refrigerated 18-wheelers up from Florida. Not their fault, really—it’s just the way this crazy industrialized food business works. Props to them for at least growing organically.
Brown Berry Cherry Tomato
(from Seed Saver’s Exchange, but grown in Open Lotus Garden)
These brownish-red cherries have shoulders that remain a deep greenish-reddish-brown when ripe, and they’re quite pretty. The ones I picked to eat tonight were firm, but had a yielding feel under the fingers, which is usually a good indication that they’re perfectly ripe. They were super juicy, with a moderate acidity, and a good dose of sweetness to even it out. Very good “real tomato” flavor that really fills up your entire mouth. Delicious!
Rainbow Cherry Tomato
(yellow cultivar out of a mixed pack from Botanical Interests, grown in Open Lotus Garden)
This cherry variety is an unusual pale lemon yellow color, and they’re slightly translucent so that you can see the veins in the flesh of the fruit. They’re really stunning to behold. They, too, are very juicy, with a higher initial tanginess than the brown berry, but with a lingering sweetness that’s quite mild and pleasant. Very good!
Mexico Midget Cherry Tomato
(from Seed Savers Exchange, grown in Open Lotus Garden)
The smallest of the three varieties, these plants are known to be dumfoundingly prolific. Firm under the touch, these tomtoes have moderate juiciness, a good solid tomato flavor with a balance of acidity and sweetness, and the tanginess lingers even after the tomato’s gone. I’d say this one has the strongest tomato flavor that we all know and love out of all four varieties. Yum.
So what’s the takeaway?
Don’t settle for store-bought tomatoes (even organic ones!) unless it’s the dead of winter and you don’t have any other recourse. It’s well worth the effort, (and a just little extra change) to find a local farmer’s market to be able to fully relish the sweet, tangy fruits of the season while they’re freshly picked. (Trust me, you deserve it.)
Or even better yet, just grow your own. If you decide to try this route, then you can have the same experience I did this afternoon while I was walking though the garden: peeking hopefully under the leaves and spotting a cluster of cherry tomatoes that look just about ready, feeling the ripe cherry tomatoes let go of the vine with a light twist of my fingers, and then poping those sun-warmed gifts of nature into my mouth and crunching into them for that irresistible flavor I can’t find anywhere else but in my own garden.
Hope you’re savoring the start of tomato season, too!