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The Kitchen Gardener
Susan Banks
Douglass Oster
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Remember tomatoes like these

Saturday, October 07, 2000

By Doug Oster

I hope you're busy filling up bags of not-quite-ripe tomatoes. That's what I'm used to doing this time of the year. Then I store the fruit in double-lined grocery bags in the basement. Every couple of days, I open the bags gleefully to see which tomatoes have ripened.

But alas, like many of you, I lost my tomatoes to late blight. I picked plenty over the summer, but now they are gone. I stare at the remains of what once was a jungle of deep green foliage that stretched to 7 feet. I'm left to reminisce about my favorite varieties.

By far my first choice was 'Potato Top.' It was a gift from Fred Limbaugh of Robinson, whom I wrote about last spring. Like his father and grandfather before him, he has kept the variety alive by saving seed after each season.

'Potato Top' has a creamy texture and wonderful old-fashioned flavor. I'm already working with Limbaugh to make these plants available to gardeners next spring. As always, they will be free. The date and location will be announced in an upcoming column.

The favorite among my family and garden visitors is a hybrid named 'Sungold.' This light orange cherry tomato is one of the sweetest I've ever tasted. The plant is prolific; in fact one friend who grew it on my recommendation has threatened to file suit over the outrageous number of tomatoes his five plants have produced. Note for next year: Only need two 'Sungold' plants.

The only other tomato that stood above the rest was 'Eva Purple Ball.' I love its soft pink blush and thin skin. The fruit is the size of a tennis ball and has a tendency to drop off the vine when ripe. I've read that 'Eva' is one of the most blight-resistant varieties. Ironically, it was the first to show signs of wilt during this summer's wet weather.

One other tomato worth mentioning is 'Rose de Berne.' I had the pleasure of tasting one on a visit to a friend's garden. All I can say is "Wow!" It's a little acidic and smacks the taste buds with a smooth flavor.

Those were the best of the best and will definitely be in my garden next year. Honorable mentions go to 'Snowhite Cherry,' 'Box Car Willie' and 'Juliet.'

'Juliet' and 'Box Car Willie' were among the seeds or plants I gave away to readers this year, along with 'Jefferson Giant,' 'Big Rainbow' and 'Spencer Green.'

The 'Juliet' appears to be a hit. It grew bigger than the 'Santa' grape tomatoes sold in the store. Gardeners reported that 'Juliet' was prolific and tasty but more like a paste tomato, not as sweet as they thought. I would agree with that assessment. I even had someone drop off some of the ripe tomatoes at work along with some really great hot peppers.

Reviews for 'Box Car Willie' were mixed. Some people thought it had a rather ordinary flavor, but Edward Kansa said it was "one of the best tasting tomatoes that I ever grew -- standard, hybrid or heirloom."

'Jefferson Giant' also had its fans:

"The best tomato I have had since my grandfather stopped gardening many years ago," said Kathie Horn via e-mail.

But many folks' 'Box Car Willie' succumbed to wilt. Others were unimpressed with its size or taste.

The 'Spencer Green' was a big hit. It produced little yellow tomatoes and bigger green ones. Everyone seemed to like the taste. I've got big plans for that tomato next year. All of you who were turned away last spring when the plants were gone, stay posted.

Here are a few good sources for seed:

Heirloom Seeds in West Elizabeth offers lots of great tomatoes. To receive a catalog, send $1 (refundable with order) to: Heirloom Seeds, Box 245, West Elizabeth PA 15088-0245. Or log on to http://www.heirloomseeds.com/.

Shepherd's Garden Seeds of Torrington, Conn., at 1-860-482-3638, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. any day, and their catalog is free. Shepherd's offers 'Rose de Berne'.

Totally Tomatoes offers a wide variety of seed and can be reached at Box 1626, Augusta GA 30903, or 1-803-663-0016.

Douglass Oster can be reached by e-mail at doster@post-gazette.com.

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