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Totally Tomatoes

Finally a summer heat wave has arrived, which means lots of tasty homegrown tomatoes will ripen on the vines, something gardeners look forward to all year.

There’s a renewed interest in growing heirloom varieties, reputed to have the best flavour, so today we are going to talk totally tomatoes.

I am often asked, “Which is your favourite tomato to grow?” But there is no simple answer because it depends on so many things. Tomatoes come in all colours, from red, pink, orange, black, purple to yellow — they even come splashed and striped!

Sizes range from tiny currants to whopping beefsteaks, shapes from round to pear-shaped, and flavour from sweet to smoky. So I say growing a diversity of tomatoes and choosing your favourite for taste and performance is the way to go.

Over the years, I have grown hundreds of varieties of heirloom tomatoes because I am interested in growing “tried and true” varieties that work well for production, flavour and disease resistance. I desperately tried to get the count down from 50 varieties a year to a reasonable number, but my nursery customers egged me on, with repeated requests to try the tomatoes along with me. This year I have whittled it down to 15 different varieties chosen for their taste, yield and vigour.

Here’s a list of the ones I am growing this year.

  • Red cherry: Gardener’s Delight, Red Grape
  • Yellow cherry: Gold Nugget
  • Red salad: Moskvich, Moneymaker
  • Yellow salad: Yellow Perfection
  • Beefsteak: Chianti Rose
  • Novelty: Black Cherry, Japanese Black Trifele
  • Paste: Ardwyna, San Marzano
  • Patio: Silvery Fir, Sophie’s Choice
  • Sundrying: Principe Borghese
  • Hanging baskets: Hawaiian Red Currant

You don’t need a garden to grow tomatoes, as there are many suitable for hanging baskets and planters and even for growing upside down. You need to choose patio varieties suited to container growing. They produce a limited number of flowers, which means a shorter period of production, but they will ripen earlier. It’s important to water planters regularly, and as their roots fill the planter, feed weekly with liquid seaweed to promote fruit production. Then you should get a good crop.

Three quarters of all tomato cultivars are indeterminate or “vining” plants that grow 15-feet long in one season, or semi-determinate that grow four-feet tall and need the support of a sturdy stake. They are not suited to container growing, but will produce huge yields of tomatoes until first frost. If you pinch off the suckers growing between the main stem and the leaf axils and keep the vines to one main stem, you will direct the plant’s energy to fruit production instead of leaves.

After I have collected the seeds, I process tomatoes in a number of ways to preserve them for year-round enjoyment. They are either skinned and bottled (with lemon juice and salt), dried on the dehydrator, or cooked down into a paste or sauce that is frozen in tubs for winter eating. We also slow roast them on parchment paper in the oven, which really brings out their flavour.

In September, I cut the tips off the plants to stop production and defoliate the plants completely, leaving clusters of tomatoes fully exposed to the sun. Even though this may seem dramatic, it doesn’t affect the health of the plants, but it does make a difference to how the tomatoes ripen. Any green ones left over are either brought indoors and put into a brown paper bag with an apple to speed up ripening, or processed into recipes for green tomatoes, such as green tomato mincemeat, green tomato chutney or green tomato pickles.

My husband loves this homemade tomato soup, which is quick and easy to make and can be frozen for enjoyment anytime.

CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups (10-15) fresh tomatoes, skins removed in boiling water and chopped into quarters

1 bay leaf

1 tsp (5 ml) sea salt

1 tsp (5 ml) black pepper

1 cup (250 ml) 2% milk

1/2 cup (125 ml) heavy cream

Optional: 2 tbsp (30 ml) sherry

Sauté onion in butter until soft for five minutes. Add skinned tomatoes, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook over gentle heat until the tomatoes are liquid for 15–20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Puree in a blender until smooth. Return to the saucepan.

Stir in the dairy gradually to prevent the soup from curdling, and heat without allowing to come to a boil. Add sherry if you wish (nice touch

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet, A Year Round Guide to Growing Organic Food and The Zero Mile Diet Cookbook, Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour Publishing). Available at your local bookstore.

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