End-of-year sampling crowns best of tomato crop

The winning tomatoes in Erin McIntyre’s 2016 garden were: the Sun Gold, a hybrid cherry tomato; a miniature version of Green Zebra, with signature yellow and green stripes; and the Ananas Noire, or Black Pineapple tomato.

Each year Erin McIntyre has a tomato taste test to decide what varieties of tomato in her garden were real standouts and worth saving.

All good things must come to an end.

And sadly, that includes sandwiches made of homegrown tomatoes.

I’m a sucker for tomato sandwiches, the only vehicle for mayonnaise I will allow to enter my gastrointestinal system. They’re simple and delicious. Somehow, that sliced tomato with mayonnaise, seasoned with a little salt and pepper on good bread is just the quintessential taste of summer.

They have tomatoes at the grocery store, sure. But those flavorless, mealy orbs don’t even resemble the splendor that is the homegrown garden tomato.

I’d rather live without tomatoes for nine months of the year than eat one of those mediocre excuses for a fruit. (Yes, tomatoes are fruits, remember?)

But before I relish the last tomato sandwich of 2016, I’ll have my own little tomato taste test to see what was a real standout from the garden. This is something I do every year to compare varieties and to see what’s worth saving space for next year and to record what was kind of “meh” that I could live without.

Over the years I’ve found that incorporating an array of tomatoes with different flavor profiles is fun and delicious. Some are sweet, some more acidic, and others almost fruity. And it’s interesting to see how the same variety of tomato can taste different from year to year, although I’m relying on taste memory, and I’m not sure how accurate that is over time.

Craig LeHoullier, the author of “Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time,” puts on an annual Tomatopalooza which he describes in his book. This is a get-together where gardeners pool their harvests and have a taste-test to see which varieties were the best performers of the year.

The end of the season is the time for it, before the killing frost and when the plants have finally produced enough to judge. He dubbed the intensely flavored Brandywine his favorite tomato of all-time, although he has 250 recommended varieties in his book to peruse for next year’s garden.

One of the clear winners this year in my garden is the Sun Gold, a hybrid cherry tomato with an orange hue that tastes like candy. I kid you not, they’re ridiculously good and even people who don’t think they like tomatoes will go for it.

Another top performer was the miniature version of a Green Zebra tomato. It’s just like the larger tomato but produces a large cherry tomato-sized fruit.

The Green Zebra is tangy, with signature yellow and green stripes that provide a striking contrast in a caprese salad with traditional red tomatoes. I think I like the little Green Zebra better than the full-sized one.

Another surprise this year was the Ananas Noire, or Black Pineapple tomato. This is one of the weirdest-looking tomatoes I’ve ever grown, and it yields a multicolored fruit that looks purple, green and yellow.

The only red spots on this tomato were on the inside, when I sliced it open and the cross-section of the fruit revealed an almost tie-dyed interior.

While it didn’t produce as prolifically as I hoped, the tomatoes I have picked are among the most delicious and distinctive tomatoes I’ve ever tried. Ananas Noire, a Belgian tomato, is incredibly sweet and a bit citrusy. This tomato took forever to ripen, but it was definitely worth the wait, and I’ll be growing it again.

Whatever varieties you grew this season, make sure to give your tomato patch a once-over before the frost hits, and pick any fruits that are just barely starting to ripen. These will be ready to eat in no time, if you have a spot to let them sit and ripen.

Even the green tomatoes will eventually turn red, if you’re patient enough. If you have just a few, stick them in a paper bag with an apple to help them along — the apple will release ethylene gas and encourage the tomatoes to ripen faster.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener and journalist who hosts “Diggin’ the Garden,” the second Wednesday of every month at noon on KAFM 88.1. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback


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