Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tomato Patch: Grandpa Henry’s paste tomato

Grandpa Henry's heirloom tomatoes

One of the most unusual paste tomatoes I’ve “trialed” in years is Grandpa Henry’s, the seeds of which were a gift late last winter from Henry Lysy, a Carroll County Master Gardener.

The Grandpa Henry’s I’ve grown this summer averaged just over 10 ounces.  They were long, narrow, with pointed ends, reminding me of a few other paste tomatoes I’ve seen in catalogs—such as Jersey Devil and San Marzano Redorta.  When visitors saw them, they often thought they were hot peppers, not tomatoes. 

Henry said his dad received the original seeds from an Italian immigrant neighbor in Rhode Island and passed seeds on to Henry, who’s been growing them at least 30 years.  For Henry’s family and his many gardening friends, Grandpa Henry’s paste tomato is truly an heirloom variety.  Thank you, Henry, for carrying on a grand gardening tradition—and for sharing seeds with me and many others.
'Solid, little juice...just perfect for making sauce'
“I’ve really seen nothing like them,” Henry said when he gave me the seeds.  “I gladly share seeds and just ask that they call them Grandpa Henry’s. They’re prolific producers and are solid with little juice—just perfect for making sauce.”

Though many of Grandpa Henry’s sported green shoulders when I picked them to avoid damage by brown marmorated stink bugs, they were mostly deep red inside.  The green shoulders turned red in four or five days on a counter in our garage.  I made several batches of sauce in late summer, and this open-pollinated family heirloom has been a welcome ingredient, along with my other trial paste tomato, Burpee SuperSauce, which I blogged about a few days ago.

Thank you, Henry Lysy for sharing a family treasure.  Maybe you’ve just proved again that some of the best things in life are free.

If you've grown Grandpa Henry's, please post a Comment about how this heirloom performed in your Tomato Patch.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tomato Patch: Delizia, a French import

Delizia Hybrid tomatoes

Howard County Master Gardener Kent Phillips and I swapped plants of our “trial” varieties last spring, and in the transaction I got a transplant of Delizia Hybrid, seed of which Kent got from Cook’s Garden.

The Cook’s Garden catalog describes Delizia, a “customer favorite,” this way: “Tomato connoisseurs rave about the marmande variety's meaty flesh and sweet deliciousness. This hybrid brings a new level of disease resistance to this flavorful classic French beefsteak. 'Delizia' is exceptionally vigorous, producing heavy yields of large, succulent, pumpkin-shaped 1 lb. fruits. A standout tomato in our 2010 and 2011 summer trials.”

I’ve grown tomatoes, it seems to me, longer than they’ve been invented, but I had to look up the meaning of “marmande” variety.  “Marmande” is the French term for tomatoes that the English call “beef” and Americans call “beefsteak.” If I were alert and not dreaming about tomatoes, I should have figured out the meaning from the catalog description.

Does Delizia rate a “rave” notice?

I may not be a “connoisseur,” but I’ve tasted scores of tomato varieties, and Delizia’s flavor is, well, delicious.  Ok, I give it a “rave.”  It also has been disease resistant with heavy yields.  The fruits are shaped something like small, squat pumpkins with modest ribs, but the ones on my plant averaged about the 7 or 8 oz. given in the second catalog description, not the one-pounders of the first catalog description.

This yummy variety has one downside.  It’s so squat—most less than two inches tall—that core removal takes away a significant part of the fruit, leaving relatively little flesh left for eating.  With so much of the tomato going into the recycle bucket rather than onto a plate or into a sandwich, I think I’ll have to call Delizia a great “chunker” but not a good “slicer.”

Will I grow Delizia next year?  I will if Kent gives me another plant.  Hey, Kent….

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tomato Patch: Three grafted Burpee varieties

Burpee grafted Brandywine Pink tomatoes

In March I wrote about my purchase of three grafted tomato plants (Brandywine Pink, Mortgage Lifter, and Rutgers) from Burpee

They were expensive—more than $10 each, including shipping—but how could I resist trying the tomato fad of 2013—grafted plants with heirloom tops and disease-resistant roots that reportedly could give superior yields.

The three transplants arrived nicely and securely in a plastic clamshell package in the week I had requested for delivery.  I planted them according to directions—on pain of death, don’t plant the graft joint below soil level—and watched the three plants grow and produce.

Have I been I impressed?  Not really.

If you grew grafted tomatoes this last summer—Burpee or other brand—please post a Comment about your experience.

Were they each worth the better part of $11?  No. The plants grew well, but their production was ordinary or less.

Burpee grafted Rutgers tomatoes
Brandywine Pink produced only six tomatoes of medium to small size—fewer and smaller than Brandywines I’ve been growing for years from seed—but they were mouthwatering delicious as a Brandywine should be.

Rutgers produced a dozen or so mostly baseball-sized fruit with good flavor.  I haven’t grown any of the Rutgers varieties, so I cannot compare to past crops.

The best of the three was Mortgage Lifter, which yielded about 10 medium to large fruit with outstanding “true, old-time tomato flavor,” better tasting than even Brandywine Pink, at least to my tastebuds.

For me the grafts were an interesting “trial” but the results were disappointing.  I feel I could have grown equivalent fruit from seed, or even from plants bought at a local nursery, at a fraction of the cost.

Grafts again next year?  I think I’ll stick with seed packets, thank you.

If you grew grafted tomatoes this past summer—Burpee or another brand—please post a Comment about your experience.

Burpee grafted Mortgage Lifter tomatoes

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tomato Patch: Buckets of SuperSauce

Large SuperSauce tomatoes are eye-catching
I was skeptical but intrigued by Burpee’s 2013 description of a new paste tomato called SuperSauce:
“It’s SuperSauce! The new tomato superhero. A whole lot bigger, a whole lot better, a Roma with aroma. Weighing in at 2-lbs., a whopping 5.5” tall x 5” wide, SuperSauce produces gallons of luscious, seedless sauce from a single plant harvest—one tomato fills an entire sauce jar.”

The description continued: “Very few people in the gardening world consider a paste tomato for anything other than to make paste or sauce. SuperSauce is extraordinarily delicious and versatile as a salad tomato, as well as having a distinctive quality in that its large segments of fruit often make a shape that is perfect for a meaty and tasty hamburger slice, quite different from the horizontal slice commonly used from a large round tomato. Easy-to-grow, indeterminate, disease-free plants yield a summerlong supply of the exquisitely-flavored marinara, tomato gravy or meat sauce plus plenty for slicing and salads.”

How could I resist ordering a packet of seeds to try, even at a pricey $6.50 plus shipping?

SuperSauce is solid, as a paste tomato should be
My first impression of SuperSauce was negative.  When the seeds sprouted and the plants began to grow, they were what you might call “leggy,” “scraggly,” or “spindly.” Their leaves seemed odd shaped, healthy but somewhat droopy or turned down.  I wasn’t expecting much from SuperSauce, but I transplanted them into the Tomato Patch at four weeks, and SuperSauce grew, blossomed, fruited.

What do I think of SuperSauce now?  I like it—I like it a lot.  SuperSauce is a SuperPasteTomato.

How does the fruit coming out of my garden compare to Burpee’s advertising hyperbole?

“Two pounds and 5.5” long and 5” wide”?  Mine averaged 5” long, about 2 1/2” wide.  From four SuperSauce plants I picked several bucketsful during just two weeks in August.  Fruit of an early picking averaged about 11 oz. and of two later pickings averaged 14.5 oz. and 18.75 oz.  In mid-season, one SuperSauce weighted 1 lb. 13 oz.  Fruit production peaked in August, but I picked numerous smaller fruit into October.

One SuperSauce almost filled a quart container
“Gallons of luscious, seedless sauce from a single plant harvest—one tomato fills an entire sauce jar”?  I originally thought that Burpee ad writers need to get out of the office and into a kitchen, but by mid-season I thought that one SuperSauce plant might, over a season, produce enough fruit to make up to one gallon of sauce.  One average SuperSauce tomato may pretty much fill a sauce container, as you can see in the photo of one fruit in a 4-cup container, but one large tomato does not yield, by far, a “jar” of sauce, at least any jar a respectable sauce maker would use at home.  Compared to the Amish Paste variety I’ve preferred in recent years, the average SuperSauce weighs about the same but has less waste from cracks and blossom end rot when processing for sauce making.  It also may be a few shades lighter red than many paste varieties.

“Delicious and versatile”?  Reasonably tasty, yes, more so than some paste tomatoes, and flavorful enough to pass as a slicer or salad tomato, especially tomato gourmands who find the flavor of supermarket varieties such as Compari acceptable.  Solid and meaty, a slice or two of SuperSauce on a sandwich doesn’t send juice racing down the eater’s arms to drip off elbows—a definite plus.

“Easy-to-grow, indeterminate, disease-free plants yield a summerlong supply”?  Yes, yes, yes.  And the size and number of the growing fruit gives even a tomato fanatic cause to pause and admire.

Enough, already.  I plan to plant SuperSauce hybrids again next year.  It has replaced Amish Paste as my top choice of paste tomatoes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tomato Patch: Cherokee by another name is Chocolate

Typical Cherokee Chocolate tomato

When I received my seed order from Tomato Growers Supply Co. last winter, it contained a complimentary packet of Cherokee Chocolate tomato seeds.  Hey, chocolate, I thought—what is there not to salivate over?

Here’s how Tomato Growers describes Cherokee Chocolate:  “A stabilized version of Cherokee Purple, this 10 to 16 oz. mahogany-colored variety has excellent flavor and beautiful large fruit.  Very productive plants are vigorous and yield a large harvest of these chocolate-colored tomatoes with the ample size and wonderful flavor associated with Cherokee Purple.”

I’m not sure I know what “stabilized” means in a tomato variety, but my Cherokee Chocolate plants produced more fruit per plant than the Cherokee Purples I’ve grown.  Fruits are larger, mine averaging just under 16 oz., though Chocolate seem more irregular in shape than the global Purple, and slightly more juicy and less “smoky” in flavor, as some catalogs describe the Purple.  I found it more convenient to cut the irregular-shaped fruit in half and then to slice or chunk the two halves.

Will I grow them again next year?  I have left-over seeds stored in the fridge from this year’s complimentary packet, so why not?  But I probably wouldn’t buy another packet unless I really wanted to grow a Cherokee that produces more and larger fruit than Purple.

Cherokee Chocolate tomatoes
sometimes challenge your slicing skills

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tomato Patch: A Solid Gold investment


Solid Gold tomatoes hang in long clusters
The price of gold may have been less than solid on the commodities markets in recent months, but my purchase of a packet of Solid Gold Hybrid seeds from Tomato Growers Supply Co. turned out to be an excellent investment.

I was attracted to Solid Gold because I wanted both a change of pace from the Sweet 100 and Sungold cherry varieties I’d grown in recent years and also a variety that wouldn’t crack after every shower or rain, as Sweet 100 and Sungold usually do.

The Tomato Growers Supply Co. catalog description of Solid Gold seemed just what I was searching for: “Clusters of one-inch long, golden yellow grape tomatoes appear in great numbers through an impressively long-growing season.  This plant just seems never to give up!  In our trials, it was the first tomato to ripen and the last one to stop producing.  The tomatoes are very crack-resistant and once harvested have a long shelf life while retaining their delicious, sweet taste.”

That description turned into reality in the Tomato Patch.  I’ve been amazed at the many cascading clusters—most with 16 to 22 tomatoes—growing from the vigorous plants.  The first tomato I picked this season was a Solid Gold, and they joined Juliets in the last colander of small tomatoes I picked before frost ended Tomato Patch 2013.  Solid Gold did not crack early in season, but about 50% of the fruit did in the last month or so.  Shelf-life seems eternal—well, almost—with Solid Gold fruits sitting on our kitchen counter for days sometimes without wrinkling or showing any signs of collapse.  When fully ripe, Solid Gold is both sweet and tomatoey, but not candy-sweet like the smaller Sweet 100 and Sungold cherry varieties.

Bottom line:  Solid Gold is a fine variety definitely worth a repeat next summer.  It is my current favorite “snacker.”  For Tomato Patch 2014 I’ll have to decide whether to plant Solid Gold again or return to the super-sweet Sungold.

Solid Gold: Solid and semi-sweet snacker

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Leaf-peeper’s Delight

The last week has been a leaf-peeper’s delight here at Meadow Glenn and throughout the Mid-Atlantic states as red maple trees—Acer rubrum—have displayed unusually brilliant fall colors.  A month ago I would have argued the lack of rain would mean dull fall leaves, but then the rains came and the leaves of the red maples turned into colors that stun the eye.

I’ve planted at least a dozen red maples at Meadow Glenn over the last 15 years or so, and many now are of a size to be noticeable when their summer green turns to fall red, orange, and gold.  Here are some photos that I took over the weekend.  I’ll save for last a photo of the tree we love the most—an ancient red maple now in the decline of age—aren’t we all?—that Ellen and I see every morning in the golden light of the rising sun as we gaze out our kitchen window.

Our Ancient Red Maple at sunrise