The first tomatoes of the season are always a bit of an anti-climax. We wait all year for the fruit to come out of the back yard as opposed to some distant clime, and then take a bite. It's not as sweet as the memory, not as drippingly hot and gushy as the movie running through my brain. The first tomatoes aren't the best ones. That is all there is to it. I tend to pick them a little early, eager for a bite and am met with a disappointing crunch when there should be a mush. In a week or two, I won't be so impatient, the vines will be dripping with ripe fruit, and I will eat them three meals a day, going from scarcity to abundance in a flash. Soon, every slice of bread will be adorned with a smear of mayo (the junky kind, not the healthy kind. Sorry) a thick, red, juicy slice of tomato and a sprinkle of good salt. This will be all I eat for a while. I know it's coming. But for now, I decided to document the earlier tomatoes and taste them, giving them a ritualistic importance of sorts. I try to put blinders on in the face of their slight un-ripeneness and photograph them, carefully laid out on the counter. Soon there will be baskets of tomatoes, heaping, unnamed and tangled together. But for now. We will carefully label, taste, and report. Here goes.
Pink Beauty is just an iconic tomato - it always perfectly shaped, blemish free and has an almost electric dark pink hue. The Purple Russians tend to crack a little, but nothing too detrimental (their good sides are showing for the photo shoot). The Juliet, as many of you know, is my favorite all-around tomato. It has huge yields of oval fruit that are great raw, for snacking, salads, sandwiches, and salsa (not too watery); but the real charm is that they work really well as a cooked sauce tomato too. The Viva Italia is a very pretty paste tomato - early and blemish free and very disease resistant. The Glacier is an heirloom, super early, does well in very cold climates (Huntington, Lincoln, Ripton - no problem), and is the one tomato you will be eating weeks before others ripen.
We tried them all, carefully slicing, chewing, thinking.....
All were slightly under-ripe and slightly lacked that "I've been baking in the hot sun" flavor and texture. We have had some rain the past couple of days, and the flavor is affected by that. But they were good - not middle of August good, but good. The Pink Beauty has a really nice balance of sweet and acid flavors, a slippery, silky texture and makes beautiful shiny slices.
The Purple Russian was a winner, flavor wise and texture wise. It is juicy, especially for a paste tomato, and has the most buttery complex taste that lingers on the tongue and leaves me wanting more. The plants are nothing pretty - they always look shaggy and stringy somehow, so I have never gotten too excited about putting them in my garden, but customers rave about them, and now I know why. Sweet, unctuous and complex. A new favorite and you will hear me raving about this one in the greenhouse next year. It would be perfect raw or cooked, and I am sure any sauce made from these would be a deep purple red color.
The Juliets were a little bland compared to the first two, but still full of good, bright flavor - lively on the tongue and a nice meaty texture.
Viva Italia were lacking in distinctive flavor (a little too acidic for my taste), but in all fairness, they are much nicer when cooked. We will have to do another taste test with just paste tomatoes, cooked simply in some olive oil and lightly salted.
The Glacier is cute as a button: plump little orbs, slightly mis-shapen and full humble darlingness. The flavor is great for an early tomato - they are a little bigger than a cherry tomato, can be sliced for salads or sandwiches or cooked down for a quick sauce. They tend to ripen 3 or 4 at a time, a nice feature since they are so small and just one of them won't take you far. I would put this at the top of the list for early tomatoes. But if you only have room for a couple of plants, there could be some better choices.
I would love to hear what you are loving or not loving in your tomato selections. Any varieties you want to recommend for next year? Any you think should be discontinued? Let us know. And we love pictures! I will do this taste test again, later, when the plants are loaded and the fruit is at peak flavor!