February 25th, 2009
In Search of the Perfect Tomato

‘Persimmon’ (possibly the best tomato I’ve ever tasted) and ‘Black Krim’ (which I figure prefers cooler climates).

I used to be more successful growing tomatoes than I am now. I even used to grow unusual varieties of tomato from seed, starting them on top of my computer monitor in my office (excellent source of bottom heat). Now I work at home, my computer has a flatscreen monitor, and I barely have enough sunlight in my yard in the summer to support 5 tomato plants. So rather than start my own tomatoes from seed, I find it cheaper to pick up a half dozen plants from a local nursery. I’ve found that in Austin, the best source of unusual and heirloom varieties (the kind I would have grown from seed myself) is Gardens.

I don’t have much room to play so I want every tomato I grow this year to be something special. Gardens provided their list of tomatoes (see below) and I’ve spent the last week researching them, trying to decide which ones to try this year. I was hoping for some good information from the garden blogosphere–I think this is precisely the kind of information in which bloggers could outdo print garden publication. But for the most part I’ve been disappointed.

Hands down the best garden blogging resource for tomato reviews I’ve come across is Hanna’s Tomato Tastings at This Garden is Illegal. For the last three years Hanna has grown a variety of unusual tomatoes and written extensive reviews of her experience. If you’re looking for tomato suggestions, start there.

Maybe I’ve just overlooked your brilliant tomato review. If you’ve written a post on any of the following tomatoes, or have recommendations for or against, provide a link and I’ll add it to this post. If you didn’t blog about it, just share your experience in the comments.

Help me find the perfect tomato.

by M Sinclair Stevens

22 Responses to post “In Search of the Perfect Tomato”

  1. From Daphne:

    I have two favorite cherry tomatoes. Sungold is my absolute favorite. My second is Black Cherry. It tastes very different than Sungold, it isn’t as sweet, but has a more complex flavor. I haven’t actually grown it myself yet, but I have a farm a couple of miles from my house where I can pick my own. Yum.

    Thanks for your input. I’ll put a plus mark in Black Cherry’s column. I am interested in growing more cherry tomatoes this year because cherries generally tolerate our extremes of temperature and moisture better than large tomatoes; that is, cherry tomatoes don’t tend to crack or develop blossom end rot as much. — mss

  2. From Jenny Austin:

    I wish I could grow some of the wonderful tomatoes that are out there but alas I have nematodes and unless the plant is nematode resistant it does not do well in my garden. The original soil came from the natural gardener and I have even tried replacing it but they always return. So the only ones I have grown are Romas. I would never be without these tomatoes as they are abundant producers and I roast them and freeze them for use in the winter. Celebrity, Lemon Boy are also nematode resistant.

    Nematodes are a real problem in Southern soils. I had never come across them until I came to Austin.

    You are right about the cherries. They continue to produce all the way through the summer and they always have wonderful flavor. I grew Juliet last year and found it to be most unpalatable. In the fall I had hundreds of tasteless tomatoes with thick skins.

    I’m going to have to do some research on nematode and nematode-resistant tomatoes I see. I’m SO glad that someone else disliked Juliet. I keep reading how wonderful it is for central Texas and but our reaction was exactly the same as yours: “tasteless tomatoes with thick skins.” — mss

  3. From Nancy Bond:

    I’m absolutely intrigued by that Persimmon tomato! What a beauty — and it looks so beefy. Positively yummy — I must look for that one. I purchased some “Better Boy” seeds this evening because they’re delicious and always perform well for me. Good luck!

    Persimmon had a wonderful creamy texture, as well as excellent citrusy flavor. The big downside is that the year I grew it, 2007, was unusually rainy. We only got two huge tomatoes (almost a pound each) before the rest of them succumbed to blossom end rot. It was a huge disappointment. — mss

  4. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    Now I wish I was trying Persimmon. I grew Black Cherry last year and loved it, so I’m growing it again. It isn’t sweet like most cherry tomatoes, and it also isn’t as prolific as most cherry types, at least it wasn’t for me. I’m also trying Cherokee Purple which is on your list, but it’s the first year for that one in my garden, so I don’t have information on that one.

    My favorite “big” tomato is German Johnson, but I have no idea how it would do in Austin. It’s got a good summer tomato taste and is nice and big so one slice covers a piece of bread.

    Some of the other tomatoes I’ll be growing include Red Currant (very tiny), Gold Nugget, San Marzano, Ace (bush type), Pink Oxheart, Kentucky Beefsteak, Beefsteak, Illini Star, Fireworks, and Aunt Anna. Of all of those, Red Currant and Beefsteak are the only ones I’ve grown before.

    I guess I don’t have a lot of tomato info for you, but will be following along to see how your tomatoes do this summer. And after reading Jenny’s comment, I’m sure glad we don’t have nematode problems in Indiana!

    That makes three ayes for Black Cherry and no nays. I think I’ll try it. I tried Cherokee Purple last year but none of my tomatoes, except the Juliet, set fruit. In 2008, Austin temperatures hit the mid-90s by mid-March. Thanks for sharing your tomato expertise. I look forward to comparing notes. — mss

  5. From Robin@Getting Grounded:

    That persimmon tomato is making my mouth water just looking at that gorgeous picture. Sadly, I have no information to offer you, but rather am following the comments so that I, too, can learn which plants to purchase. Thanks for the post.

  6. From Helen/patientgardener, UK:

    Tyra had an interesting post on tomatos which I found very useful – I’m sure she would forward it to you.

  7. From Carol at Lost Valley Gardens:

    In the Hill Country 40 mi west of Austin I have had the best luck with Celebrity, Big Beef, and Money Maker for red slicing tomatoes. For cherry type, Chadwick Cherry is a real winner in our hot dry climate. They produce tasty, fairly large, fruits all summer long if moderate irrigation is provided. The other varieties that I have had really good luck with are the Black Plum Paste, which also produced all summer and into the fall, and the Stupice.

    The challenge with growing tomatoes outside (I also grow them in the greenhouse) here in Central TX are the relatively short growing seasons; spring and fall. It is almost impossible to get tomatoes to grow here in the dead of summer. It’s just too hot most summers. So I start seeds at least 6 weeks prior to when I want to set out my transplants. I have to repot the transplants into 3″ or 4″ pots before I set them out, but the reward is that once they are set into the garden they may already have blooms setting. This way, I have the best chance to get a good harvest before the season ends.

    I appreciate you naming specific varieties and sharing your tips for growing tomatoes in central Texas. Thanks especially for mentioning our SHORT growing season. I’m always trying to explain to people that you can’t measure Austin’s tomato growing season by its last and first frost dates. You have to factor in that most tomatoes can’t set fruit when night temperatures are in the 70s. Our real dead season is summer, not winter, and what Austinites really have is two short tomato growing seasons a year. — mss

  8. From Robin, Austin:

    Last year Celebrity and Sungold both outdid themselves in my Austin garden with plants producing right up to frost.I experimented with a late season planting of Sunmaster, Sweet 100 and Viva Italia didn’t get much from any of them.
    I recommend Marvel Stripe for it’s wonderful flavor and beautiful appearance but cannot comment on how it does in the garden.I’ve started seed and will be growing it and a number of other heirlooms for the first time this year.
    I am happy to read from Carol@ LVG that Stupice was a winner as that is one of the new varieties that I am trying.
    There is never enough info on tomato growing experiences. Enjoyed the post.

  9. From Dee/reddirtramblings:

    The easiest to grow here in OK are ‘Rutgers’ (very disease resistant) ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Beefsteak,’ ‘Big Beef’ and ‘Sungold’ (the best cherry tomato ever). Those are the easiest. There are others, but they are harder. All of these are resistant to heat. I would also suggest you get them in early to get blossom set before the heat sets in. Further, I have to add eggshells to my tomato planting hole or I get blossom end rot. Just my thoughts, dear MSS. I hope you get some tomatoes this year.~~Dee

    I love ‘Sungold’ but want to try some new things this year. I did get ‘Cherokee Purple’. Thanks for the tip on eggshells. I’ve never heard that before and will give it a try. I bet it’s because it adds calcium. Calcium deficiency is supposed to be one factor in blosom end rot. — mss

  10. From entangled:

    MSS, I think your ‘Persimmon’ might be different from mine. Your photo looks a lot like one of my favorites, ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’, very meaty with many small seed chambers. The ‘Persimmon’ I grew had just a few large seed chambers. And although it was a good-sized tomato (8? 10? oz.), it was nowhere near as large as Kellogg’s Breakfast (those are huge).

    Of the others on your list, I’ve grown ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Eva Purple Ball’. All those have good points, but I’m not growing any of them this year, because I too am still searching for my perfect tomato. ‘Black Cherry’ was good, but didn’t taste like ‘Black Russian’, which is the flavor I wanted and expected, so I was disappointed. ‘Cherokee Purple’ was way too sweet for me, although I made excellent fried green tomatoes from them. ‘Eva Purple Ball’ is just OK in the flavor department, but makes large numbers of perfect-looking tomatoes (no cracking at all). My parents/grandparents used to grow ‘Sweet 100’ long ago when it was a new variety; I remember that everybody liked it but don’t know how it would compare today.

    My flavor favorites so far are ‘German Johnson’ (thanks to Carol!), ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’, ‘Striped aka Speckled Roman’, ‘Black Russian’, and ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’.

    I plan to try ‘Copia’ this year.

    2007 and 2008 were the first years I grew lots of different varieties; my summaries of those years are here and here.

    A few weeks ago, I discovered Tatiana’s TomatoBase, a huge compendium of info on tomato varieties.

    Hope you find your perfect tomato!

    Thanks for your great info! I hadn’t seen Tatiana’s TomatoBase before. I LOVE it! Now that’s dedicated information gathering. I read about ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ years ago and have been wanting to try it. I’ll probably have to find seeds for it…and that will require some planning ahead next year. — mss

  11. From Jean:

    Looks like you already know about Sun Gold. I have a post about it here: http://diggrowcompostblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/gorgeous-golden-tomatoes.html. This year I’m going to try Cherokee Purple and I live in the south, so it’ll be interesting to see how well it does. I also want to get another cherry one but I’m not sure I have room. That Persimmon looks fabulous. btw, I was at Barton Springs Nursery last weekend and they had a good selection of organic tomato seedlings there.

  12. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    I wish I could give you specifics but tomato growing in Fort Worth is a crapshoot and any variety can do good or bad in a given year, it would seem. But I am trying to beat the clock this year–my plants are already in the ground! I have hoop houses for frost protection…I’ve planted Early Girl, Brandywine, Rutgers, Marianna’s Peace (which may be a better autumn producer), Arkansas Traveler, and an orange cherry tomato I got from a farmer’s market in Coos Bay, Oregon (best cherry tomatoes I’ve had in eons).

  13. From Jon:

    Very informative post. This will be very helpful to me selecting which tomatoes to grow this season. Thanks for sharing.

    BTW, I love your blog and have added it to my list of favorites on my blog sidebar.

    Jon at Mississippi Garden

  14. From Bob Pool:

    Hierloom favorites are Mortgage Lifter[huge and good taste with deep creases] and Druzba[medium, perfect round, no blemishes and great taste].

    Hybrids were Carnival and Champion until I tried Big Beef. It’s the best tonato I’ve ever grown.

    For grape types try Sweet Olive. We like it as well as all our friends.

  15. From Christina:

    You know, I’ve had wonderful, wonderful luck with Black Krim in my VERY HOT summered Southern California garden, and almost no luck (two tomatoes from one plant) with Persimmon. Just goes to show . . ..

    Anyway, here is my Black Krim review: http://athinkingstomach.blogspot.com/2007/07/bad-boys.html

    I love, love Black Krim, and it is now always in my rotation.

  16. From Lori:

    Well, so far I’ve gotten Roma, Patio, and Black Krim (one of the guys at Barton Springs swore it did well for him), but haven’t seen Persimmon on sale anywhere. Did you find yours at Shoal Creek?

  17. From Carla Austin:

    I didn’t have much luck with Black Krim. I got 3 tomatoes from 2 plants. I love the Cherokee Purple which did well and the Cherokee Chocolate which also did well. Great luck with Chocolate Cherries and Black Cherries in the Fall. The Costoluto Genovese did great, but I didn’t like them. I’ll have to try the Persimmon this year. I got some of my seed from http://www.tomatofest.com and some transplants from Sunshine.

    Thanks for sharing your data. — mss

  18. From Burt:

    My top 5 tomatoes:
    1: Marianna’s Peace
    2: Sun Gold
    3: Garden Peach
    4. Dr Wyche’s Yellow
    5. Cherokee Purple

  19. From Burt:

    Yellow Taxi is also a very good tomato!

  20. From Simon:

    I’m in the Cedar Park area of Austin. Last year I grew:

    Sweet 100 (produced really well, good taste)
    Green Zebra (heirloom, in container, good yeild, great taste)
    Black Krim (heirloom, poor producer, but great taste)
    Mortgate Lifter (poor producer, great taste)
    Better Boy (poor producer, ok taste)
    Early Girl (poor producer, ok taste)

    Based on last year, I’ve planted 2 Green Zebras, 2 Sweet 100’s, and I’m experimenting with 2 Brandywines, and 1 Homely Homer.

    I’m trying to find a good producers with a reasonable yield of medium to large tomatoes. The Green Zebra won hands down last year. Very pretty, if a bit small, but super flavor.

    The other varieties I grew had a lot of vegatative grown, but poor fruit sets, even with me going out and helping to pollinate with an electric toothbrush.

    Thanks for sharing your data.

  21. From Simon:

    One other comment: A great place for a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes in Austin is Round Rock Gardens, on Sam Bass Road.

  22. From Pauline, Horseshoe Bay:

    Spring of 2010 I planted a variety called Chocolate Cherry which I purchased, of all places, at Home Depot. It was the best tomato I have ever tasted and really prolific.I only planted one and had enough tomatoes to eat and share. It produced through the Summer and into the Fall, wasn’t bothered by pests and did not split. I could not find it last Spring after calling all the nurseries in Austin that I expected to have it and was truly disappointed. I will be on the hunt again this year so if anyone knows where to find it please post.