I’ve been on a search for the perfect 8 oz tomato. I grow a lot of lovely heirlooms. German Pink, Dester, Stripped German. Beautiful, huge tomatoes. Some well over 1 lb. But not everyone at market wants to pay $3 or more for ONE tomato. So I’ve been looking for a medium sized red tomato with excellent flavor. What I really want is a red version of Valencia, which is a fantastic yellow/orange heirloom that I’ve been growing for the last two years.
One of my biggest pet peeves with tomato seed packets is how inconsistent they are in describing the size of the tomato. Some describe the average weight. A lot describe them by size. Stuff like 4-5 inches, or baseball sized. Some just say “medium”. Really not that helpful when you sell by the pound. But this year, on the lookout for new varieties, I ended up with four different medium red tomato varieties, all from different sources.
Crimson Carmello from Renee’s Garden. 70 day. F-1 hybrid. Indeterminate. “Bred in France especially for fresh eating, plump Crimson Carmellos will satisfy all of your tomato fantasies. The round red juicy fruits have a perfect sweet to acid balance that translates into exquisite taste. Big 4 to 5 inch Carmellos are borne in abundance on vigorous disease resistant and widely adapted indeterminate vines. Fusarium, Verticiullum, Nematode and TMV resistant.”
Thessaloniki from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply. 65 – 80 days. Organic Heirloom – open pollinated. Indeterminate. “Developed in Greece in the 1950’s. Earthy, somewhat acid flavor in a medium sized salad tomato, also used for canning. Think of a red baseball and you have the size and look. Uniform fruits have good blossom ends. It resists sun scald (due to its heavy foliage), fungus and cracking.”
Marglobe from Lake Valley Seed. 73 day. Heirloom – open pollinated. Determinate. “Marglobe is an heirloom variety from the 1920’s. Medium-sized fruits are deep red and perfectly round. Clusters of three to six fruits are protected from sunscald by a dense canopy of leaves. Delicious sweet flavor. An old time favorite.”
Early Red Chief from Ed Hume. 66 – 72 days. Open pollinated. Determinate (some sources say indeterminate). Open pollinated. “These strong bushy plants produce large fruit to 10 oz. early in the season and continue over an extended period. The slightly lobed beefsteak type fruit can be enjoyed fresh or in sauces.”
I planted out two of each variety, side by side, all in the same row with the same fertilization routine, and here were our conclusions.
- I had poor germination on the Thessaloniki, only ending up with two plants.
- The Early Red Chief were the first to produce ripe fruit. Marglobe was second.
- No variety seemed to be determinate. (Determinate means that the plant sets all its fruit at once and then stops growing.) I’m still harvesting fruit from all eight plants and all eight are still flowering on October 18th, having been in the ground since early May. They are all medium sized plants, with the Early Red Chief being the most rangy.
- Carmello seems to be the least adaptable to weather changes, from pulses of rain to fluctuations in temperature. The fruit on these plants took the hardest hit, in terms of condition, suffering cracks and sunscald. None of the four varieties tested were particularly prone to splitting at the top.
- The fruit on the Early Chief was unexpectedly small. I give big props to Ed Hume, located in Puyallup Washington. When I contacted them about this, including pictures for comparison, they were baffled at the small size, offered to send me a free new seed packet from this year’s lot, and agreed to grow out the rest of my seed to confirm the small size and try to track down the supplier issue. They had received no other complaints. It should be noted that I don’t prune my tomatoes, AT ALL, so in general, my fruit tends to be smaller than “advertised”. The trade off here is smaller fruit but more of it, or larger fruit (if you prune out suckers) but less of it. I have enough to do to not be fussing with pruning 32 tomato plants every few days, so I opt for smaller fruit. But most of the Early Chief fruit was in the 1 to 2 oz range. Considerably smaller than expected. They were thin skinned and looked like mini-heirlooms. I sold them as cherry tomatoes. Given that I grew a 1.8 lb German Striped tomato in the same row, I don’t think it was my conditions.
- Some reviews online complain about the thick skins of the Thessaloniki. However, when it comes to transporting a tomato to market and back, a thick skin is more welcome than the fragile thin skins of the large heirlooms, that split if you set them down in the grass, or touch one with a fingernail, or bump it into another tomatoes’ stem, or look at it wrong…
But the most important thing, as always, is TASTE. We did a side by side taste test of all four varieties. Thessaloniki won, with Crimson Carmello coming in a close second. Thessaloniki was definitely the sweetest of the bunch, with a firm flesh. Carmello was slightly less sweet, and slightly softer. Since Carmello is a hybrid, I can’t save seed from it and grow it again, so Thessaloniki will be the one I save seed from and grow next year.
- Thessaloniki – 4 to 6 oz size. Sweet, firm flesh. Nice acid balance.
- Crimson Carmello – 3 to 4 oz. Light bright sweetness, middle firmness.
- Marglobe – 4 to 6 oz. Savory, with firm meaty flesh.
- Early Red Chief – 1 -2 oz. Bland neutral flavor. Soft.
So…the search for the perfect 8 oz red tomato continues. I’m open to suggestions. I would prefer an open pollinated variety. What are your favorites? Next year I plan to try Alice Roosevelt, a red tomato that came in third in the Seed Saver’s Exchange taste test, and seems to fit the bill.
Third place went to “Alice Roosevelt,” another tomato from our preservation seed collection and available to members through our seed exchange. It has a bright red, medium sized, globe shaped fruit. Alice Roosevelt was available in the U.S. in 1905, but had fallen out of the seed trade entirely by 1981. It came to SSE from listed member Craig LeHoullier, who acquired it from the USDA collection.
German Pink, which I’ve grown for the last few years, and has fewer splitting issue than Dester, came in first this year in their taste test!
It should be noted that the taste of a tomato can be affected by the soil and growing conditions. We had a dry hot summer, and it got hotter faster than usual (average temperature for the month of June here is 79 F. This year the average was 90!) And what is one person’s tomato ambrosia is another person’s tomato meh. So your mileage may vary. I highly recommend you do your own experiments!
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2015, where tomato season is winding down, but we’ve yet to have a frost. We’re living on borrowed time and hoping we don’t have a repeat of last year, where it didn’t frost until mid November, and then the first frost was 17 degrees. THAT killed a lot of trees.