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A Feast for the Senses

Tomatoes offer as many colorful varieties as they do flavors. Here are a few of our favorites.

By Richard Hefley

In addition to a wide range of flavors, tomatoes “paint” your table with a rainbow of colors, from bright reds and soft whites to chocolate browns and sunshine yellows. Even stripes, smudges and blushes are in the offing. But no matter how they look—some folks swear by “ugly” varieties—tomatoes are, for many of us, the best part of spring and summer.

We talked to tomato lovers from all over North America and asked them about their favorite varieties. (We couldn’t resist and threw in a few of our most treasured types too.) Here is a list you can dig into as you prepare your garden for what we all hope will be a banner year for yield, color and flavor.

Hillbilly

Hillbilly

Hillbilly, an old-time yellow heirloom from the hills of West Virginia, is a favorite of Joe Rarus, of Southfield, Mich. “It’s almost too pretty to eat,” he says. “It’s beautiful on the plate, takes gorgeous photos and has a fabulous flavor.” In addition to eye-popping colors, these fruits are big—up to 2 pounds.

Few climates are more challenging than Alaska’s. Sherry Shiesl grew the Green Giant heirloom on her place in Anchorage. “I started it extremely early and it took forever to produce a ripe fruit in a greenhouse, but it was the best tomato I’ve ever tasted. It’s the first time I could understand the description of ‘creamy’ as it relates to a tomato,” she says.

Big White Pink Stripe, a 1- to 2-pound white tomato, ripens to a peachy blush with a “creamy, silky texture, and leaves a sweet and tangy taste in the back of your mouth,” says Laurel Garza, of Laurel’s Heirloom Tomato Plants in sunny southern California. Another of her favorites is the deliciously named Chocolate Stripes, which tastes “sweet, smoky and juicy.”

Some folks prefer the ease and reliability of prolific cherry tomatoes. Butch Rodio, of Hammonton, N.J., a longtime Massey Ferguson owner and now a dealer celebrating 50 years of selling Massey Ferguson equipment, says, “I can fill a quart a day off the two plants in my garden.”

There are many heirloom cherries to choose from with novel tastes and vivid names. Some of our favorites are Hartman’s Yellow, Gooseberry, Black Cherry and Snow White. One newer variety is Power Pops, which is ideal for container gardening and reportedly has 40% more carotenoids and 55% more lycopene than the average tomato.

Two of our favorite bicolored varieties, both of which are late-season bloomers, include the prolific Green Zebra and the very sweet Gold Medal. For a different look on the plate, try black tomatoes, such as the rich and smoky flavor of the Vorlon and the salty Black Krim.

Ah, but with so many varieties to choose from—we could’ve easily filled this entire issue with colorful, flavorful tomatoes—how do we settle on which to plant? As one tomato grower advised: “When you read the catalog and the pictures and description make your mouth water, try that plant first.” It’s a method you can sink your teeth into.

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