2016 was a rather odd tomato year. I heard from many gardeners, and experienced myself, a stop and start season. In Concord, plants grew well at first, then slowed and struggled. Fruit produced, then took forever to ripen. Things did finally normalize and I got mostly good fruit. Our plants at Rodgers Ranch however, produced very well and on schedule, then gave up in early fall. The Concord plants produced later and lived longer.
We did a few informal tomato tastings through the season, and thought a review was in order. Here are the results of our unscientific and personally biased findings—good, bad or otherwise.
Best Newcomer: Lucky Cross
A total winner! Everyone lit up when they tasted it, and all loved the bi-color flesh. So many of the eye-catching beefsteak varieties fall short in the flavor department, so I got a big ear-to-ear grin when I tasted this one. The fruit was consistently good all season and it produced incredibly well.
The Worst: Bali
Wow, could a variety be that bad on so many levels? Yup. This was a YUGE flop! The fruit was small, hard to pick, turned to a fermented mush 10 minutes after it ripened, was too seedy, had too much gel and barely any flesh, all bound in a skin so tough you could resole your shoes with it. Therefore, of course it produced HUNDREDS of fruits. Kept pumping them out relentlessly. I threatened to pull the plants and toss them, but just couldn’t do it. Instead, I reached for any culinary use I could think of, and finally decided to roll with what they liked to do best: ferment. I harvested loads of them and made tasty fermented juice, great for bloody marys!
The All-stars, Every Year:
Ananas Noir: Everyone loves this one. It’s always in the top three for flavor. The fruit has the most unusual, psychedelic colors inside, and is a tropical sweet flavor bomb. There’s a reason this is the most popular variety we sell.
Sudduth Brandywine: There is just no better flavor than this. Every year. It’s full bodied, rich, sweet and very balanced. Production, texture and flavor is consistently good. This is the poster child for heirlooms.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green: Oh how I love this tomato. The RR crew never tasted this one we think because nobody ever thought a green tomato could be ripe. That’s ok, more for those of us who knew. The fruit was sweet, subtle and juicy, with great texture and a reasonably thin skin. Production was great as usual.
The Rest of the Good and Bad:
Thessaloniki: A total surprise. The earliest tomato, hardiest, healthiest plant, and a good producer of fruit with no cracking and with good balanced flavor--way better flavor than Stupice. While other plants struggled and stalled, this one was happy and loaded with blooms. I have high hopes for a repeat performance this year.
Azoychka: This one always makes my top picks list, Totally dependable and easy to grow, the fruit is early, smooth, crack free, and the flavor is fully developed—impressive for an early tomato.
Anna Russian: Flavor; meh. Production; meh. Did anyone really love it? No. It was so underwhelming I was annoyed.
Black from Tula: Lots of love for this one. It was a favorite amongst the Rodgers Ranch volunteers. A nice, large, black beefsteak with wonderful rich flavor. It produced reasonably well.
Carbon: Rated right up there with Black from Tula for the RR volunteers. I rate it better than. Mine produced very well, the fruit had good hang time, and flavor was consistently good throughout the season.
Earl of Edgecomb: Pretty much just as uptight, boring, and tart as the name sounds. Average production, average looking. Yawn.
Arkansas Traveler: Love its consistency, heat resistance, incredible hang time, and very good flavor. If you were going to carry a whole ripe tomato around in your lunch box with the hope of it being intact at lunchtime, this is the one you’d want.
Yellow Brandywine: I had high hopes. They were dashed. The plant struggled to produce full size fruit and failed in the flavor department. It had no Brandywine-like flavors we could detect. This makes me very sad, as I love Brandywines.
Dr. Wyche: Way high on overall ratings for the RR crew. Big, beautiful, smooth fruit has great flavor, like you imagine a beefsteak to taste. I must say, the solid, deep orange color is striking too.
Tobolsk: Yes, Yes, Yes! A great year for this one. Very good production spread out over a long season, and the fruit was fantastic. Somehow every time I cut into this one I expected something less, and so I got a happy surprise every time.
Heidi: I don’t get too excited about paste tomatoes, because, well, they’re hard to get excited about. Heidi, though, she’s that solid, self-assured, drama-free, resilient, hard working friend you can always count on. Is she the most beautiful? No. The biggest? No. The best tomato ever? No, but a good one, and she consistently pumps out tasty, blemish-free fruit in large amounts through the season, year after year without a fuss. In those heat waves, or hard years when other pastes struggle through BER and green shoulders, Heidi stays solid. Whenever you want to make a sauce or salsa, you can always find ripe Heidis hanging on the vine. She’s a good friend.
Snow White: Every year since we started growing this, it shines. Great color, easy to pick, super sweet, doesn’t crack, and produces early. It’s a polite and easy to grow plant. What’s not to love?
I’m so interested to see what happens in our 2017 season. Every year is a new adventure. See you out there in the garden!