Forget silly competitions that give a championship cup to the winner and nothing to the rest. The Tomato Grower’s Plate is a far more delicious prize, and anyone can win it!
Everything on the plate is homegrown or homemade (except the drizzle of olive oil). I even wove the place mat and made the raw-milk mozzarella! (It’s unbelievably rich and tasty, and was still warm in this photo. Delish!)
Tomato varieties (starting at bottom left and going clockwise around: Orange Strawberry, Berkeley Tie-Dye, Darby Red and Yellow, Purple Calabash, Copia, Brad’s Atomic Grape, Cherokee purple. The center tomato with the black skin/red star on top is Kaleidoscopic Jewel. I’m not sure about the round red tomato in the center – I have a lot of those in the garden right now!
The basil is homegrown as well. I planted two five-gallon buckets of it and hoo boy do I have basil now!
This resulted in a not-atypical summer conversation with a friend:
Me: Hey Carolyn, the basil’s doing well at my place. I’ve got more than I can use. Want some?
Me: Great! How much would you like? I can offer you a choice between “too much basil” and “way too much basil”.
Me (helpfully): There’s also the option of “HOLY F—, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???” amount of basil…
Carolyn: Uh, Brian is out of town and I’m not a basil person…so maybe a smaller amount?
Me: Okay, I’ll bring over a just-barely-way-too-much amount of basil.
My friends are very lucky that growing zucchini is not among my passions. 🙂
But “tomato grower’s plate” isn’t exactly the right description for what I’ve got in that photo. Here’s the behind-the-scenes view: The Tomato Breeder’s Plate!
The blue tape labels indicate each breed of tomato. For example, the golf ball size tomato labeled “FM 73” stands for “Fruity Mix, plant #73”. I did a tomato tasting the following day to see which varieties I liked most and wanted to use in future breeding projects. So far, my favorite of the non-experimental breeds is this one, Berkeley Tie-Dye:
This one is bred by Brad Gates at Wild Boar Farms. Not only does it have excellent flavor, it’s the most beautiful tomato I’ve ever seen. Red, yellow, and green stripes on the outside, and red/yellow/green flesh on the inside. Be still my tomato-artist heart! 🙂 I definitely want to try breeding it to Fruity Mix next year.
You may have noticed the stupendous good news that I’ve slipped in twice now. FRUITY MIX AND FUZZY MIX ARE ALIVE AGAIN!! That is to say, not only are the plants growing, but they are producing new seeds to propagate the varieties forward. They aren’t in full swing yet, but I have enough fruits to taste and evaluate each variety, and I am starting to save seeds from the earliest fruits (which were not isolated from cross-pollination) as a hedge in case some massive disease outbreak takes out all the plants in each of the four locations I’ve got them growing in the Bay Area. (Uh, yes, I’m paranoid, why do you ask?)
It is looking like the Fruity Mix are not all “true to type”. Some are larger fruited and some smaller. The smaller ones are the ones with the unforgettable flavor, and there aren’t that many of them – at least, not at my place, where the tomatoes are bearing early. So far only four have borne fruit – two of which are insanely good, two mediocre. I’ve marked the plants to make sure I save more seed from the better ones. But it’s clear that I’ll have to do at least a couple generations of breeding work to stabilize the variety. Next year I’ll see whether I can cram two breeding seasons into one year. They are not exceptionally early varieties, but two generations from seed to fruit is about seven and a half months according to my calculations. We have an amazingly long growing season, but that’s still stretching things. I’ll probably try it with a few seeds.
If you’re wondering how the tomato tasting gets done, here’s a tray that I put together and tasted with my sister in law Johanna when she visited:
After laying everything out, we taste-tested everything and wrote our notes directly onto the parchment sheet (because it was the simplest thing to do). I’ll transcribe it this week into my tomato database. The database needs a lot of cleaning up, so one more back-burner project!
Here’s an example of our notes:
The paste tomato on the left side is “Sweet Cream,” also by Wild Boar farms, and is the most delicious Roma-shaped tomato I’ve ever tasted. Plus, gorgeous! Definitely a winner for next year.
And of course, where would tomatoes be without garlic?
This is only about 2/3 of the garlic crop, as I had already
unceremoniously dumped graciously given about twenty bulbs to various terrified grateful friends by then. I did an impromptu raw-garlic tasting with my friend Chris Cianci. It was enlightening! I hadn’t realized how different garlic flavors can be. Mystery Garlic (which actually is a named variety, but I lost track of which one) won the taste tests last year. It has a nice, balanced garlic flavor. Erik’s German White has a sweeter, more caramelly flavor, heavier on the roasted-garlic side. Inchelium Red did not grow well for me and wasn’t exceptional in flavor, so I’m dropping it next year. And Georgian Fire – which was advertised in the Seed Savers catalog as “the hottest garlic variety there is” – lives up to its name. Somehow, without capsaicin, it still packs the wallop of a hot pepper! I bet it would go great in salsa.
Inexplicably, I only grew one kind of sweet basil this year. I will do better next year!
I’m definitely growing Mystery Garlic, Erik’s German White, and Georgian Fire next year. I was going to order 2-3 more garlic varieties to experiment with next year, but then I vaguely remembered receiving some sort of email about garlic in April. So I did a search and discovered that someone had already ordered seven more garlic varieties to be delivered in the fall!!
I have no idea who could have been so excessive as to order seven garlic varieties, knowing that some of this year’s varieties might come forward to the next year. So now I have ten varieties to grow next year, plus two bulbs of “Purple Glazier,” a gorgeous garlic I got at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. Which makes 11.
Clearly I am in trouble, and whoever ordered those seven varieties needs a serious talking-to. But it clearly wasn’t me! I mean, I’m not in the habit of doing excessive things (not at all!), so someone must have framed me. I blame the cats. Behind those adorable faces lie diabolical (and thoroughly lovable) mischief.