One big benefit when you grow your own food is the adventure of discovering new things. Whether it be an obscure fruit or vegetable you’ve never heard of before, or a unique variety that begs to be checked out. There’s no shortage of tomato varieties out there. Shopping for tomato seed is as hard as deciding which perennials to add to the flower bed this summer. There are hundreds, if not thousands of them to consider. Your climate will help narrow the selection, as will some experience gained through growing different tomatoes.
While I envy warm climate gardeners for their long season tomato options, and those who live in a less humid place for being able to bring in a harvest without constant war on blight – I’ve arrived at the perfect tomato assortment for reasonably early ripening, crack resistance, and covering all the things I want from the tomatoes in the garden. So, here it is, my top 5 tomato varieties. They are all heirloom or open pollinated, and have excellent flavor.
1 — Hogs Heart
A large, super meaty Italian heirloom that came to the US back in the 20s. It’s way better for sauces than Romas, which do not grow well in the North. This deep pink variety has tons more flavor, and is more acidic, where Romas tend to be sweet and dry. There are way less seeds and watery juice in Hogs Heart Tomatoes, so they’re also faster to clean and prep. They’re just as good in a sandwich as they are on a salad, or homemade spaghetti sauce and salsa.
They are productive indeterminate plants with a regular tomato leaf, so you get sporadic ripening of an ample harvest from 86 days through frost. The elongated fruits often developing a point on the bottom, though they can be more oval than heart-shaped. Even with quite a bit of rain, there is very little cracking.
2 — Marianna’s Peace
The tomato lover’s tomato! A sensational heirloom tomato that came to Washington state from Czechoslovakia in the late 1950s, though its origin is unknown. Big on flavor with the perfect balance of sweet and acid, it’s exactly what you want in a sandwich.
Pinky-red fruits are 1-2 pounds each from an indeterminate potato-leaf plant in 80-85 days. Not a heavy producer, but how many sandwiches do your need? These will split from too much moisture, but with taste like this, it’s worth eating around the blemishes. Excellent in chili and soups too.
3 — Green Zebra
It just wouldn’t be summer without Green Zebra Tomatoes. A small salad tomato bred for a restaurant in California, this relatively new open-pollinated variety has a unique sweet-tart flavor. Great eaten straight off the vine, and a few of these in any tomato-based recipe gives you some extra zip. It’s a highly acidic tomato, best used as a supporting player in sauces, salsas, and soups. Useful for increasing the acid to sweet balance for canning salsa. Too many, and you’ll know they’re there, though a pinch or two of sugar can calm the tartness down. Great slow roasted.
Indeterminate and highly prolific. Oodles of yummy 3-4 oz. fruits borne in clusters per plant that begin ripening in 75 days. No problem with cracking.
4 — Gigantesque
Just one tomato could feed several people. The huge fruits will be about 2 pounds each. Originally from the Ukraine, this orange-red slicer will never give you a perfect orb, but it’s divinely delicious and bigger than your bread. Like most huge-fruited tomato plants, you’ll not have more than you know what to do with. Wonderful old-fashioned tomato flavor you’ll find works just as great sliced as it does in a sandwich, soup, chili, and salsa.
This is the first year I grew Giganteque tomatoes, but it will be in the garden without fail from now on. It is prone to cracking in a wet climate, and big on lumpy with a core as so many heirloom varieties are. One bite, and you’ll see why none of those traits matter at all. Imperfection can be beautiful 😉
5 — Purple Haze
These are the tomatoes on top of the page. I got these seeds from Dan at Biker Dude Ginger in Hawaii. He sent them with a few others after a chat we had about how difficult it is to get a good tomato harvest in the north, promising all would give me a crop without fail. Well this one is my favorite, and it’s a keeper. The fruits are small like a cherry tomato, but that’s where the resemblance ends. They are long like a grape tomato, but larger. The seeds and juice are green, the flesh is black, and the skin is bright green streaks against a burgundy so deep it heads its leaning toward purple when fully ripe. Much more vibrant than the ones in the photo above – these were picked green to save them from frost and ripened indoors. Vine ripened the burgundy and purple is much more pronounced as in this photo to the left from 2014’s harvest.
The flavor is a bit smoky and somewhat sweet. Just right for snacking, on a salad, and in an omelette. I have used them in salsa as part of a medley of tomatoes. They grow in clusters on an indeterminate plant, and ripen later – probably 80-85 days. They don’t crack from high moisture, and are pretty prolific at pumping out clusters of bright fruit. You can’t buy them anywhere. They seem to be one of a kind, but I’ve saved some for seed. With any luck they’ll be in my garden every year from here on out. As long as my seed is viable, I think I’ll share some with Tomato Fest so more people can enjoy this delightful little tomato.
What’s Your Favorite?
Share your top tomato varieties with us in comments. Be sure to include what kind of climate you have so readers will know if they can grow those types successfully where they live.