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What Are the Best Tomatoes?


Joe H
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This man has been growing his own tomatoes, super sweet white corn, and other veggies and fruit for almost 30 years. He has a stand that is open Weds., Friday, Saturday and Sunday on route 9 (in front of the Shell station) on the road to Waterford where the vegetables and fruit are grown. Generally he opens at 8 in the morning and closes when he runs out. Some days this is at noon time. He is known well with every third or so car coming from Fairfax county which is at least 20+ miles away, occasionally Arlington, Falls Church and Maryland with the odd D. C. license plate every few visits.

Unbelievably delicious heirloom tomatoes are $2.00 a pound! His red beefsteak tomatoes are incredibly flavorful also. I am suggesting these are the best that I have found anywhere in the greater D. C. area. Unfortunately he does not visit any farmers' markets-he doesn't have to with so many coming to him out here.

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This man has been growing his own tomatoes, super sweet white corn, and other veggies and fruit for almost 30 years. He has a stand that is open Weds., Friday, Saturday and Sunday on route 9 (in front of the Shell station) on the road to Waterford where the vegetables and fruit are grown. Generally he opens at 8 in the morning and closes when he runs out. Some days this is at noon time. He is known well with every third or so car coming from Fairfax county which is at least 20+ miles away, occasionally Arlington, Falls Church and Maryland with the odd D. C. license plate every few visits.

Unbelievably delicious heirloom tomatoes are $2.00 a pound! His red beefsteak tomatoes are incredibly flavorful also. I am suggesting these are the best that I have found anywhere in the greater D. C. area. Unfortunately he does not visit any farmers' markets-he doesn't have to with so many coming to him out here.

Can you be a specific on location?

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I expect he means the Shell station at the junction of Clark's Gap Rd. and Rt. 9, which is a few exits west of Leesburg on Rt. 7. My sat link is so slow tonight I can't MapQuest it for you, but it's easy enough to find, if that's the place he means. I live here. I'll try the place on Wednesday morning.

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Fields are regular red tomatoes of various strains like the various girls and boys. They are round, red, shor to maturity (55 to 75 day) and usually a hybrid. Heirlooms are named varieties like cherokee purple, brandywine, valencia, stripey, german striped, etc.

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I'm confused by the terminology, and Google isn't helping. The term "field tomato" seems to mean different things to different people.

The "girls and boys" strains that you're referring to, like Early Girl and Big Boy and Better Boy and Lemon Boy Celebrity and so on, are all the same basic types as heirloom varieties like Brandywine and Cherokee Purple and a gazillion others. The major difference is the degree to which they've been hybridized for commercial growing. "Heirloom" is a very loose term in this regard. Much the way "traditional" is, come to think of it...

By "basic type" I mean more or less round, somewhat thin-skinned and tending toward watery, as opposed to the other "basic type", which are more or less plum-shaped, thicker-skinned, much meatier and less juicy, Roma being an excellent example. There are heirloom varieties of plum tomatoes, too, though not as many (Principe Borghese is one that I've grown). The former are generally eaten raw, in salads or sandwiches or whatever. The latter types are generally used for cooking.

[To further confuse matters, the more or less round ones are often indeterminate plants, and the more or less plum-shaped are often determinates.]

What I really want to know is, are the vendors now calling plum-types "field tomatoes"? (Which is what I've been inferring from this discussion.) And if not, are you using the generally round/thin-skinned/watery ones for sauce?

Now I'm going to log off and make dinner - a galette of salad-type tomatoes with basil and mozzarella. A type of cheaters pizza for those who are better with pastry than yeasted doughs.

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What do you mean by "heirloom" and "field" in this context?

It's my understanding that "field" is not distinct from "heirloom", but rather, distinct from "greenhouse" or "hothouse" tomatoes.

Sentences using the terms: "It's summer, everybody, time for field tomatoes!"

"Toigo Orchards sells a lot of greenhouse tomatoes on sweltering days in May to shoppers craving an early BLT."

"Heirloom" distinguishes certain types of pre-UC Davis "standard" varieties of perfectly round, easily stored and shipped tomatoes from Old School varieties grown from seeds cultivators sought long and hard to find in gardens and Old-Timey fields and thereby return to larger audiences and wider consumption.

Dean Gold names examples of each. Thing is, Heirloom is now becoming a term for fancy Farmers-Market types. Thus, the new "heirloom" tomato named after Michael Pollan and the designer one a grad student promises to develop for the envious Lynne Rosetto Kasper.

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I've found myself bemused by the variety of "heirloom" tomatoes being sold at local farmer's markets these days, just like that, on a table, "heirloom tomatoes", no differentiation, except by price. Heirlooms, not heirlooms, you decide. Heirlooms cost an arm and a leg. Worth it.

Because I also grow heirloom tomatoes, I recognize Brandywine (they're pink, not red, ovoid, squashy and funny-shaped), Cherokee Purple (they're blackish and uniform in shape), Mr. Stripey (they have green stripes) but too many different ones to say for sure who is who.

I just pick up individual tomatoes and sniff them. If they smell like fresh tomato, I buy them. What's two or three extra bucks in the grand scheme of things?

Always and forever, or at least for the foreseeable future, it's Brandywine, but they are very ugly, with lots of places that need to be cut off and discarded, so if you won't buy them, more for me.

Second is Cherokee Purple.

And that's the way it is.

Edited to add: and you did not ask about the grape/cherry tomatoes, but the orange ones are superior.

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I have to add anecdotally, about 3 summers ago, I was at Dupont market, making my way through the thick summer crowd. When, I was idling to allow a stroller to pass, and noticed a woman purchasing tomatoes at Toigo. After her purchase, she turned around to her husband with a look of shock.

"I just spent $5", she said in disbelief, as she held up a bag of 2 tomatoes.

:)

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Field tomatoes that I am talking about are all round, not plum. They are also of a fair uniformity of size and color in the 25 pound box. Cherokee purples, brandywines, German striped are much less uniform in size and shape, with a larger stem scar and more of a white center in the tomato. Beefsteaks {non hybredized} are not usual around these parts but were common in LA

Of course everyone is entittles totheir opinion of which tomato is best, but everyone but me is also entittled to be wrong. So to correct the official record, the BEST tomato is the Cherokee purple, FOLLOWED BY the Brandywine pink. :) There are also now Brandywine reds and Cherokee something elses which I am not familiar with.

Golden Oxhearts, ox hearts, Arkansaw Travelers can all be fine, but tend to mealy when left a moment too long on the vine. For orange and yellow, there are Valencia's and another whose name I forget which are more like fields in uniform appearance but are pretty great.

I adore the pineapple type tomatoes: German Stripped, Dr W are about my favorites. They look like an unhybridized red but have lots of yellow with red striped or lots of red with yellow stripes.

As far as cherry tomatoes, I agree that the sungold is abut the best {there is a supersweet, smaller version just starting to come out that is crazy good but not widely available} but also look for black cherry tomatoes and whites as well. Yellow cherry, grape and tiny yellow pear tomatoes are typically disappointingly mealy. I do not like grape tomatoes generally as they are thick skinned in my experience.

With Heirlooms as I define it {basically good enough to go into a caprese as opposed to a sauce or a cooked tomato dish} who grows them in very important. TOG is a prime source, Emily at the Farm at Sunnyside, Cinda at her stand at Dupont whose name I never remember {she of the loads of great greens} grows really ugly but really really good tomatoes. Next Step and Tree & leaf are in my second string.

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It's my understanding that "field" is not distinct from "heirloom", but rather, distinct from "greenhouse" or "hothouse" tomatoes.

That makes sense, but that wasn't how it read in the thread where this discussion originated, nor is it how Dean defined them.

Thing is, Heirloom is now becoming a term for fancy Farmers-Market types.

Which is kinda what I was getting at. See also the discussion of "local" in the News and Media Forum. Meanings become diffuse over time, leading to confusion.

But getting back to the farmers market issue, if I drag my fat ass out of bed early enough on Saturday to make it all the way to 14th and U in time to snag a box of tomato seconds for my annual sauce making extravaganza, am I going to find Romas or Celebrities?

eta: "With Heirlooms as I define it " - aha! no wonder I was confused. :)

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That makes sense, but that wasn't how it read in the thread where this discussion originated, nor is it how Dean defined them.

Which is kinda what I was getting at. See also the discussion of "local" in the News and Media Forum. Meanings become diffuse over time, leading to confusion.

But getting back to the farmers market issue, if I drag my fat ass out of bed early enough on Saturday to make it all the way to 14th and U in time to snag a box of tomato seconds for my annual sauce making extravaganza, am I going to find Romas or Celebrities?

eta: "With Heirlooms as I define it " - aha! no wonder I was confused. :)

I don't know what the tomatoes are called, but they are the thin-skinned variety, irregular shape. Very tasty. Good in many applications. Look at the 14th & U market thread for Garner's email address to reserve a box or more. You will not be sorry!

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{Just so you all know, I'm seriously tempted to go get my ML(I)S after all .... just so I can correctly categorize conversations like this!

In this forum alone we have threads on Heirloom Tomatoes, Greenhouse Tomatoes, and "The Best" Tomatoes. Fantastic, because we are such a repository of information and awesome discussion ... so don't stop! :)

Calling Melvil Dewey and waiting for this post to magically disappear ... }

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The best tomatoes are the Brandywines coming out of my garden right now. I know this unequivocally because I made a soup of them for dinner tonight, and afterward, Mr. lperry helped me double-dig another 4 x 8 foot bed for next year's tomatoes. :) This is the stuff of legends. (The black cherry tomatoes that volunteered are pretty good too.)

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But getting back to the farmers market issue, if I drag my fat ass out of bed early enough on Saturday to make it all the way to 14th and U in time to snag a box of tomato seconds for my annual sauce making extravaganza, am I going to find Romas or Celebrities?

Fat ass? Didn't you do the Summer Challenge along w the rest of us? And, hold on, you can sleep in late on Saturday if you find the time on Wednesday for what she says:

I don't know what the tomatoes are called, but they are the thin-skinned variety, irregular shape. Very tasty. Good in many applications. Look at the 14th & U market thread for Garner's email address to reserve a box or more. You will not be sorry!

All their other markets are early, though the Bloomingdale market on Sunday stays open till 2!

******************

Glad to hear, lp! To answer the question about best tomatoes, my current favorite is Purple Calabash for slicing and eating raw and the yellow Italian plums from Garners for slow roasting.

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As far as cherry tomatoes, I agree that the sungold is abut the best {there is a supersweet, smaller version just starting to come out that is crazy good but not widely available} but also look for black cherry tomatoes and whites as well. Yellow cherry, grape and tiny yellow pear tomatoes are typically disappointingly mealy. I do not like grape tomatoes generally as they are thick skinned in my experience.

i know they're a newer strain, rather than a traditional heirloom, but i adore sungolds as well. it's not just that they're ridiculously sweet (though they are) it's that they're distinctly fruity, and remind you that tomatoes are, after all, a fruit. I've done a number of blind taste tests and was surprised by how much i liked early girl, which some people i know had looked down on because it's a new "commercial" variety. But for me the absolute tops of the non-cherries is brandywine, the only problem is they come so late in the season, and for so short a time, and then they inevitably have punctured spots/discolorations/etc so i end up cutting off like a quarter of the tomato, which was rather expensive to begin with.

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and then they inevitably have punctured spots/discolorations/etc so i end up cutting off like a quarter of the tomato, which was rather expensive to begin with.

at $4 and more a pound, i've been examing the tomatoes closely and outside of the zebras, perfect heirloom specimens are hard to find. the bigger the tomato, the more extensive the damage. i don't think the excess heat has been especially helpful this summer, either. the tomatoes have been more perishable than ever. any apparent soft spots, and the entire tomato can start rotting within a day, and i have had more than a few that looked ok explode in the bag on the way home. i'm expecting to see better late in the summer. for taste and texture, all around right now, cherry tomatoes are the safest bet. considering their soaring cost, heirloom tomatoes can be frustrating.

the past couple of weeks, okra has been one of the standout vegetables at the market. i toss them in a hot pan with a little water, butter, oil and lemon for a few minutes, covering them to start, and they are great. their only drawback, like just about everything at the farmers market, they tend to be expensive.

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at $4 and more a pound, i've been examing the tomatoes closely and outside of the zebras, perfect heirloom specimens are hard to find. the bigger the tomato, the more extensive the damage. i don't think the excess heat has been especially helpful this summer, either. the tomatoes have been more perishable than ever. any apparent soft spots, and the entire tomato can start rotting within a day, and i have had more than a few that looked ok explode in the bag on the way home. i'm expecting to see better late in the summer. for taste and texture, all around right now, cherry tomatoes are the safest bet. considering their soaring cost, heirloom tomatoes can be frustrating.

One of the stands I often buy from at Eastern Market on Saturdays has started selling heirloom tomatoes for the same price as regular ones. I'm pretty sure this is a recent development. I asked and one of the women said that managing a different pricing structure for the different kinds was just too hard. So, I scooped up quite a few heirloom tomatoes of different types and colors for $2.75/lb. over the weekend. I've also noticed a fair amount of damage and quick degradation in tomatoes this summer, but these have been great. Oh...I should mention that the farm is Sunnyside, from Southern Maryland, not the same one that sells at Dupont.

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I should mention that the farm is Sunnyside, from Southern Maryland, not the same one that sells at Dupont.

There are TWO Sunnysides that sell at the Dupont market. One from W. Virginia, which is conventional not organic, recently invested in a commercial catering kitchen and now brings lots of prepared food and flatbreads to sell in addition to their vegetables, fruits and herbs. The other Sunnyside, the organic grower from Little Washington, VA changed its name to The Farm at Sunnyside.

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the past couple of weeks, okra has been one of the standout vegetables at the market.

Yes, this would have been the year for me to plant okra again, seeing how it's been a hot one this summer. Too bad I didn't try! Glad to hear you're finding good okra in the markets.

Back to your regularly scheduled topic....

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There are TWO Sunnysides that sell at the Dupont market. One from W. Virginia, which is conventional not organic, recently invested in a commercial catering kitchen and now brings lots of prepared food and flatbreads to sell in addition to their vegetables, fruits and herbs. The other Sunnyside, the organic grower from Little Washington, VA changed its name to The Farm at Sunnyside.

I'm pretty sure this is a third one. That must be a popular farm name. I'll have to check the exact wording this coming weekend. They often have signs next to the displayed produce saying that it was grown in Southern Maryland, which is how I'm deducing their location.

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^Concerning exchange of Pat and Zora above, the other Sunnyside Farm. Note that Eastern Market is NOT a producer-only market and the low cost may be due, in part, to the good price these middle-men get at the Amish auctions for someone else's tomatoes. Other factor to consider: many farms that sell in Baltimore have to sell low there, but they travel the extra distance to DC where they command a higher price.

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at $4 and more a pound, i've been examing the tomatoes closely and outside of the zebras, perfect heirloom specimens are hard to find. the bigger the tomato, the more extensive the damage. i don't think the excess heat has been especially helpful this summer, either. the tomatoes have been more perishable than ever. any apparent soft spots, and the entire tomato can start rotting within a day, and i have had more than a few that looked ok explode in the bag on the way home. i'm expecting to see better late in the summer. for taste and texture, all around right now, cherry tomatoes are the safest bet. considering their soaring cost, heirloom tomatoes can be frustrating.

More than a little irony in this post.

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^Concerning exchange of Pat and Zora above, the other Sunnyside Farm. Note that Eastern Market is NOT a producer-only market and the low cost may be due, in part, to the good price these middle-men get at the Amish auctions for someone else's tomatoes. Other factor to consider: many farms that sell in Baltimore have to sell low there, but they travel the extra distance to DC where they command a higher price.

There are some vendors who are clearly not producers. There are some I know to be producers, though they may not produce everything they sell. Perhaps I have incorrectly assumed these people are producers of at least some of what they sell, based on conversations I've had, especially with the elderly woman who is always there. I don't think so, though. They definitely have the Southern MD signs on a fair amount of the produce. I recall a pretty extensive conversation with the elderly woman about the growing season for some field beans they had that I liked. They seem to know a fair amount about the growing of the produce.

ETA: the woman in the photo in the link is the one who explained the tomato prices.

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There are some awfully nice heirloom tomatoes to be had, sometimes and in some places. I've had some green zebras and purple cherokees that were terrible, too, mealy and flavorless. I have to say, though, that almost all of the tomatoes I've ever eaten where I said "Ah! That's one of the best tomatoes I've ever had!" have been modern beefsteak varieties. For what that's worth. The best tomatoes I've had so far this year have been beefsteaks from the Catoctins (specifically, "seconds" from Catoctin Mountain Orchard in Thurmont, MD).

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There are some vendors who are clearly not producers. There are some I know to be producers, though they may not produce everything they sell. Perhaps I have incorrectly assumed these people are producers of at least some of what they sell...

You're correct. See profile linked in my post yesterday--they grow some of the produce and sell stuff grown by others. What I am guessing is the farm not like a member of the Tuscarora Organic Growers (farming co-operative), but one that competes with everybody else at auctions--the same way that distributers for chains do, or a variation on that practice that allows them to keep costs low. Only speculating, but at any rate, the other growers of the produce they sell are getting even less money, of course.

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You're correct. See profile linked in my post yesterday--they grow some of the produce and sell stuff grown by others. What I am guessing is the farm not like a member of the Tuscarora Organic Growers (farming co-operative), but one that competes with everybody else at auctions--the same way that distributers for chains do, or a variation on that practice that allows them to keep costs low. Only speculating, but at any rate, the other growers of the produce they sell are getting even less money, of course.

I've always assumed that the elderly woman working at their stand is Amish or Mennonite, based on her clothing. The other people don't dress that way. I'm not sure who actually owns the business that trades under that name, but since the woman pictured at the market link is the one who was discussing pricing with me, I would guess she's one of the owners. The Amish/Mennonite woman could be one of the producers they buy from, I guess.

It's usually too crowded to have very in-depth conversations with them at the market, but their produce is consistently good. I'm quite happy with the tomatoes I've been buying from them this summer.

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But getting back to the farmers market issue, if I drag my fat ass out of bed early enough on Saturday to make it all the way to 14th and U in time to snag a box of tomato seconds for my annual sauce making extravaganza, am I going to find Romas or Celebrities?

:(

This is what happens when I skip gardening for a year.

It's too damn early for Romas. feh.

...though AB, I do appreciate your advice. Checked out the HandHS market today - nice.

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In case anyone is interested, the McLean farmers market had really beautiful ripe red Romas yesterday. Twenty five pounds yielded twelve pints of good thick sauce.

Oh, and one vendor had lots of hot peppers and tomatillos, which I rarely see, but then maybe I just don't go to the right markets.

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In case anyone is interested, the McLean farmers market had really beautiful ripe red Romas yesterday. Twenty five pounds yielded twelve pints of good thick sauce.

Oh, and one vendor had lots of hot peppers and tomatillos, which I rarely see, but then maybe I just don't go to the right markets.

I just bought twenty pounds of various Heirlooms from Jim Riley at his farm stand an hour ago on the road to Waterford. This is the source of the very first post in this thread. Two years after starting it I continue to believe-perhaps because of his soil-that he grows the best tasting tomatoes that I have ever had.

At $2.00 a pound for heirlooms. This IS the absolute peak of the season. Right now.

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I just bought twenty pounds of various Heirlooms from Jim Riley at his farm stand an hour ago on the road to Waterford. This is the source of the very first post in this thread. Two years after starting it I continue to believe-perhaps because of his soil-that he grows the best tasting tomatoes that I have ever had.

I've had a very disappointing tomato season so far this year. I've had some pretty good tomatoes, but no superb tomatoes, and some downright godawful tomatoes, and I mean purchased from farmers' markets. On several occasions, I've cut up a farmers'-market tomato, tasted a bit, and then thrown the whole thing away. If I wanted to try Jim Riley's glorious love-apples, where exactly would I find them? Route 9 on the way to Waterford doesn't mean much to me. I see there's a Waterford Virginia, with a highway numbered 9 nearby, but where exactly are Mr Riley and his tomatoes to be found?
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We just had a great fresh tomato dish at Cashion's Eat Place tonight. Those tomatoes were the best I've had all summer. It has not been a stellar year for tomatoes. The dish description was 'Steves Vine Ripe Tomatoes with Red Onions, Pipe Dreams Fromage, Lemon, and Micro Basil.' Unfortunately, I was too caught up in our conversation to have the good sense to ask who the heck Steve is and where can I find his tomato patch. I'd buy up his entire crop.

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I've had a very disappointing tomato season so far this year. I've had some pretty good tomatoes, but no superb tomatoes, and some downright godawful tomatoes, and I mean purchased from farmers' markets. On several occasions, I've cut up a farmers'-market tomato, tasted a bit, and then thrown the whole thing away. If I wanted to try Jim Riley's glorious love-apples, where exactly would I find them? Route 9 on the way to Waterford doesn't mean much to me. I see there's a Waterford Virginia, with a highway numbered 9 nearby, but where exactly are Mr Riley and his tomatoes to be found?

Post #5 in this thread from Waitman has specific directions but stop at the Shell station. The 80 year old Jim Riley's small stand is in its parking lot.

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To (maybe) answer the question in the subject line (but not in the tread), my best (favorite) tomato is Paul Robeson.  It has a rich, deep, smoky taste that I can't match in any other black tomato.  I always plant a few different plants in succession planting style because my Paul Robeson's always get ravaged by disease.  It's the one downside.

Second favorite is another black variety:  Black Krim.  It does much better than Paul Robeson and is more prolific and the taste is great too, it's just not as good as PR.  But close! 

 

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