Garden Notes: Weird weather puts kibosh on tomato-tasting events

I’m blaming the weather! Usually, we’ve had ripe tomatoes well into September, but the Tomato Tastings planned for the Juniata Farmers Market and the Station Mall have been cancelled.

Vendors don’t have tomatoes to taste. Tomatoes raised in high tunnels are done for the season. Garden tomatoes are still green.

So I’m blaming weird deviations from our normal weather patterns.

Farmers market vendors and a number of Master Gardeners supplied the tomatoes for last year’s Tomato Tasting. The tomato samples were grouped into cherry and grape tomatoes, hybrids and heirlooms. Tasters ate their way down a line of 25 or more varieties like Pink Brandywine, Sweet 100 Cherry and Cherokee Purple.

At the end of the line, they were asked “What was your favorite?” and the conversations evolved from there.

Very often, the participants stopped at the vendors’ tents to take their new-found favorites home.

Sun Gold was the most popular cherry tomato, followed closely by Sun Sugar. Both are the orange tomatoes that Steve Bogash, a PSU Horticulture Educator in Cumberland County, says are “the candy of the tomato world.” More than one local taster said, “It’s so good – it doesn’t even taste like a tomato.”

The winner in the heirloom division was the Pineapple Tomato. Last year’s Pineapple Tomatoes weighed an average of two pounds and had a beautiful red blaze through the yellow flesh.

Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter placed second in the Heirloom section. There are a number of “mortgage lifter” varieties, and one of the tasters claimed he could distinguish Radiator Charlie from the others.

He also told me about the nine-pound trout he caught the day before.

Planned for this year were most of 2014’s tastiest varieties and some new, unique varieties like Ananas Noire, a black pineapple tomato with rich, sweet and smoky flavors. It makes a delicious tomato sauce.

Next year, there’ll be a Siberian tomato, Paul Robeson. It’s a Russian heirloom, a black beefsteak tomato that is a dusky, dark-red tomato with dark green shoulders and red flesh.

The winner in the Weird Name category will undoubtedly be Wopssipinicon Peach. It tastes slightly spicy and fruity-sweet. It produces thousands of one- to two-inch tomatoes with “fuzzy-like-a-peach” skin.

Indigo Blueberry is a tiny tomato with midnight purple skin and a red interior. It was developed at Oregon State, and hand-crossed with wild varieties from Chile and the Galapagos Islands. It’s loaded with anthocyanins and phytonutrients.

Small local, direct market farmers face many challenges getting food from field to fork. Their tomatoes could just as easily been hit by late blight. Or their red beets could have died in the wet spring soil. But the farmers plan for diversity and sustainablity. They grow a variety of crops that guarantee their ability to bring produce to market.

If you have ripe tomatoes, enjoy every bite! And watch for information about 2016’s Tomato Tasting. The farmers intend to make this an annual event.

Contact Teresa Futrick at esroyllek@hotmail.com