Plant Tomatoes According to Color, Taste, Size You Want a Plethora of Varieties Waits at Garden Centers, Farmers' Markets

By Cook, Adrienne | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Plant Tomatoes According to Color, Taste, Size You Want a Plethora of Varieties Waits at Garden Centers, Farmers' Markets


Cook, Adrienne, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Garden centers now are stocked with thousands of squat tomato seedlings. If you're willing to go to the trouble of cultivating your own, all of them will produce tastier tomatoes than those in the stores, but some will be more delicious than others.

For those whose greatest summer treat is to slice and eat a tomato fresh from the vine, it makes sense to avoid raising those that even come close to the blandness of tomatoes available in the supermarket.

Taste is subjective. Some people like their tomatoes sweet; others prefer more of a bite. Some associate taste with size, others with color: In addition to the familiar red tomato, other fully ripe versions come in hues of pale pink, gold, yellow and orange.

But if you want the kind of excessive, juicy, meaty slab that covers a dessert plate and needs no more than a thin slice of fresh mozzarella, a large leaf of basil and a drizzle of fine olive oil or balsamic vinegar to make a meal, go for a slow-maturing beefsteak tomato. Make sure you give the plants plenty of support, because they'll get big.

The most famous of this group are Big Boy, which has been around for 50 years, and Better Boy, marketed as an improved hybrid of Big Boy.

Both of these are the late bloomers that seem to produce the best flavor, and both are decidedly red.

Big Boy matures in 78 days, with fruits consistently heavier than a pound apiece. Better Boy produces in 72 days with similar heft and better disease resistance, according to the seed catalog of W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

(It is too late to order seeds now; make a list of favorites this summer and send off for the seeds next winter.)

Plant breeders being what they are, they have moved on and produced Big Beef, which came on the market in the early 1990s. While it is fairly common this year, having been given an All-America Selection designation, it is not so ubiquitous as Big Boy or Better Boy.

The flavor of Big Beef is marvelous by any standards - not so tangy as some of the reds but not as mild as the colored ones, very rich and mellow. Its color is a deep red and, though it may not cover a plate like some of the other beefsteaks, I think it has even better flavor. It is a dependable and heavy producer under the most adverse conditions.

These are the stalwarts that should be available now from garden centers. My favorites among the widely available retail seedlings are the German or Belgian types.

I have seen this year Mr. Brown, which is another excellent large-fruited, slow-maturing pink, and, even more oddly for a garden center, Mr. Stripey. …

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