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HOT TOMATOES

 

The tomato is a multicultural plant, and is valued as a source of vitamin C, color and flavor from places as diverse as Siberia, China, and the Amana colonies in Iowa. Tomatoes come in different shapes, sizes and colors, but if you don't grow your own, you are probably only familiar with the standard round, red kind you see at the grocery store.

 

The round, red tomato was developed over time to accommodate the needs of packers and shippers.  Basically, these ag-related industries needed some kind of standard by which to judge tomato quality and size.  This was to keep vendors and others honest.  Heirloom tomatoes - those not hybridized to a shape and color standard - can be round, oblong and flat, or heart-shaped (commonly known as the oxheart.) Colors range from almost white to yellow/ gold, orange, red and purple.  Generally, the lighter the color of a tomato, the lower the acid content. People who shun tomatoes because of their acidity might want to try a yellow, orange or white variety.

 

One of the recent “fad” tomatoes is the grape tomato – smaller than a cherry or pear tomato, this grows in clusters on a determinate vine.  “Grapette” and “Juliet” are two of the most prolific varieties of grape tomatoes.  Seeds of either variety can be purchased mail order or in the garden centers of most department stores.

 

Some interesting and colorful full-sized tomato varieties are:

 

Brandywine – this traditional beauty comes in red, yellow and pink.  The Brandywine tomato sets the standard for tomato flavor, so tomato aficionados should try at least one or two of these plants in the garden.

 

Amana Orange – brought to this country by the Amana colonists, this golden yellow beefsteak variety bears abundantly, especially in deep prairie or heavy clay soils.

 

Pink Oxheart – the name says it all.  The fruit is pink, heart-shaped and weighs 8 – 12 ounces each.

 

Cherokee Purple – fruit is medium sized and a deep reddish-purple color.

 

Mr. Stripey – my favorite, just because of the “cute” value.  An enormous, flat beefsteak tomato; I’ve had individual fruits weighing over 1 pound each.  The outside tends to be orange with green striping at the top.  Inside, the meat is a blend of orange, red, yellow and pink stripes.  Because of its size, Mr. Stripey needs lots of water and good support, but it’s well worth planting.

 

Black Krim – a small, purple-black variety that originated in Siberia, Black Krim is ideally suited for growing in short-season areas such as Canada, Minnesota and northern Wisconsin or Michigan.

 

To find seeds of these and other unusual tomato varieties, visit Totally Tomatoes (http://www.totallytomato.com/), or R. H. Shumway (http://www.rhshumway.com/)