Christmas came to me this fall. The spirit of giving was extended by Mary Danly and Barbara Baresh of Danly Farms when they brought a “sleigh” filled with heirloom tomatoes – 23 different kinds to be exact, to my house for tasting. In my imagination I can liken tomatoes to the colorful ornaments that dangle from a holiday evergreen tree. But tomatoes are adornments placed on shrubbery by Mother Nature herself, and so much more beautiful than anything created by humans.
While I have tasted wines and spirits side by side, I have never had the extraordinary opportunity to sit down and taste tomatoes organically tended to by two meticulous farmers. With the long fall and Danly Farms “tunnel,” a plastic sided green house, the bounty was large. On this day I sat at my dining room table with my husband Joe, along with Barb and Kate Sample from the neighborhood, and of course, Barbara and Mary to experience the jewels of summer.
Heirloom tomatoes come in a range of colors, tending to be fleshier and more flavorful than the supermarket fruit. These days, heirlooms are becoming a little more common though from having spent some time with Barbara in the fields, heirloom tomatoes are more difficult to grow and to harvest. They do not transport well which accounts for their relatively dear price.
In examining the tomatoes, we evaluated the following:
Firstly we looked at the color, ranging from yellow to orange to green to striped to pink to red to brown to black. We also noted the shape and size. After cutting into the tomato, we glanced at size of the seeds and pockets they lived in, and at times, the pattern of the wells.
When chewing we noticed how the flesh felt. Was it mealy or smooth? Did the flesh have body? Was it “meaty” or “mealy”? Was the tomato juicy?
In determining the “yum” factor of the tomatoes, we tasted for actual flavor. Was it bland? Did the tomato actually have taste? Was there good acid? Did it have sweetness? Were there savory notes? Did it have similar flavors to another fruit or vegetable? Were herbaceous characteristics detected?
Barbara established the order of how we tasted the tomatoes. From her experience she organized the sampling from most mild in flavor as well as lightest in color to the boldest in visual and sensory.
Click on the thumbnails below to view images.
Poma Amoris Minora Lutea
This tomato was lemon yellow in color, about the size of a large golf ball. Somewhat bland in flavor with a mealy texture.
This large fist-sized yellow tomato carried a blush of salmon color on the bottom. Flesh was smooth and slippery. There was some sweetness.
A large fist-sized yellow tomato with red stripes. Flesh was meaty and smooth in texture with inside radiating red streaks throughout. Taste of muted sweetness.
A large yellow tomato with light red brush strokes of color running from the core to the bottom with an internal core of red veins. Flesh was meatier and thicker than the tomatoes we had tasted thus far. This tomato exuded a delightful savoriness. Barbara and Mary said this tomato stored well and could have a long shelf life.
Earl of Edgecomb
This medium-sized orange yellow tomato had good juciness combined with firm flesh with large seeds, but with a somewhat mealy texture. Filled with good acidity and some savory notes.
This bright green yellow tomato carried mottled green streaks running vertically on the skin. Inside wells, dark green in color while flesh was light green almost white.
This beautiful tomato had malachite green shoulders with a dull red bottom. Inside a rose pink core radiated outward. Mary said people always thought this was an unripe tomato because the outside looked dull. This was a good fleshy tomato with finishes of sweetness.
Originally grown in Japan this was the almost flawless tomato in appearance. It had a thick core but did not house much seeds. The flesh was nice and soft, and yet, meaty and smooth. There was a good sourness.
This tomato was prettier in appearance than taste. It originated from an 8-foot tall plant. The seed cavities had a teardrop shape. The flesh was soft and dissolved in the mouth with a mild, almost neutral flavor.
A pink flesh tomato with few seed cavities and was meaty in texture. The taste was bland.
This large tomato had core veins of white and pink. This was a dense tomato that rose in flavor on first chew. It had some savory notes with good sweetness with the skin exuding some bright herb flavors.
Mary Ann’s Peace
The seeds for this tomato were given to a daughter from a mother who was imprisoned at a concentration camp in Hungary. This large tomato was extremely meaty that had very few cavities. It was very flesh and juicy, almost watery with an acidic bite, but mostly it was bland in flavor.
This red tomato was slippery, glycerol in texture. The skin required some chewing while the flesh was creamy, much like a ripe peach. The skin separated easily from the flesh. Bright in acid.
This tomato looked more like a “traditional” tomato with a four-leaf clover cavity. It had a mealy flesh and a tough skin.
This small red tomato with orange stripes had a hard exterior and a mealy flesh. It was very acidic. Barbara said it is too tangy for her.
This large tomato had a brush of brown color on its shoulder. Inside it had very geometric seed cavities. This meaty tomato had a good slippery texture. Best of all the tomato bursted with savory, sweet and sour flavors.
This deep green and red colored tomato sported green stripes with a mostly green colored shoulder. It had a meaty juicy flesh. The taste was good with juicy savoriness.
Black Sea Man
This tomato that is dark red almost brown on the bottom carried green shoulder pads. It has a nice slippery, almost creamy smooth flesh. It haf savory notes with good acidity, making the mouth flow with saliva. This tomato definitely whet my whistle.
Unfortunately this tomato was overripe and tasted old and tired.
This large tomato is what Mary described as “You want to sing when you eat this.” The chocolate colored tomato with light pink and white splotches inside is a meaty fruit with a soft flesh. There were some herbaceous notes with undertones of sweetness. The Paul Robson tasted good with saltiness and tang.
This medium-sized green shouldered tomato with a red chocolate bottom carried some cracking streaks on the outside. Barbara reported that this tomato was hard to grow. The tomato had good savory and acidic notes.
Black Japanese Trifle
This pear shaped tomato had a good clean look with a soft good creamy flesh. The skin was easy to bite into. The tomato had a good savory flavor and nice texture. Mary and Barbara said this tomato was good for sauce.
The small, medium-sized deep garnet colored tomato was cherished by chefs. Its flesh was salmon in color with gold green specks in the middle. This full flavored tomato was bright in flavor with a sweet herbaceous finish. There was good acidity on the skin with a nice smooth, good-bodied flesh.
This tasting experience dissolved all my beliefs that a red tomato is the best tomato. From childhood, the picture of a red shiny tomato represented the perfect fruit. The Ananas Noir ranked as the most beautiful tomato for me. This malachite green shouldered tomato held a dull red bottom. On the surface it looked unripe, but its interior radiated a rose pink core, and was fleshy with notes of sweetness. The yellow German Striped had light red strokes running from the core to its bottom and showed an internal core of red veins. Its meaty flesh highlighted a delightful savory taste. Barbara and Mary said this tomato had a good shelf life. The best tasting tomato was the chocolate colored Paul Robson. The light pink and white-splotched interior held hints of herbs mixed with sweetness, saltiness and tang. Mary said, “You want to sing when you eat this tomato.” I almost did but I can’t hold a tune! Coming in right behind this tomato was the Black Prince as my second favorite. With an exterior deep garnet color, its flesh, salmon in color with gold green specks packaged full flavor, nice acidity and a sweet herbaceous finish.
I invite you to try an heirloom tomato if you have not had the pleasure. For the need of transport and storage, the grocery store tomato has lost all its personality. We have come to accept the bland and mealy red tomato as the fruit standard. Next time you venture to the Farmers Market in summer, let the farmer advise you to try a brown colored tomato. This beckons back to the saying, “You cannot judge a book by its cover.” This cover will may just unveil a Christmas package in summer.