The most satisfying part of summer, well, at least summer gardening, is the arrival of ripe tomatoes. There just is no taste comparison between grocery-store and home-grown tomatoes. Allowing a tomato to ripen on the vine gives it the necessary time to develop all of the subtle, sweet flavors that each variety is capable of.
I planted some popular hybrids this year — ‘Big Boy' and ‘Big Girl' — in order to get a bumper crop of big, red tomatoes for spaghetti sauce. The plants are doing very well and I expect quite a few more weeks of excellent eating. In the past I also grew a plant or two of an heirloom tomato, ‘Purple Cherokee,' known for its excellent flavor — meaty, sweet and not too acidic. Heirloom crops are those that have been grown for generations and are not a hybrid. They have maintained their unique flavors and may grow best in a region similar to their beginnings.
Kansas does not seem to be the optimum climate for ‘Purple Cherokees,' but even a few of the big, purplish fruits is worth the space in my small garden. So, I did put one in this spring, hoping it would not succumb before a few tomatoes had ripened. I have not been disappointed.
In our office we enjoy sharing our gardens' bounty with other staff members. A few years ago we did a taste test with a half dozen different heirloom varieties. It was quite surprising to discover the range of flavors and textures of the old types. But most of our current staff was not here then, so I thought a taste comparison between tomatoes grown under the same conditions was in order. I brought in a ‘Big Boy' and a ‘Purple Cherokee,' cut them into bite-sized chunks and passed the plate. What fun to hear the 'ahhhs' that emanated from each desk area. The ‘Cherokees' were gone in a flash. Of course, no one let the other go to waste.
If you have a little extra space in your garden, I highly recommend you plant some heirloom tomatoes. There are a number of nurseries that specialize in heirlooms or you may find them at your local garden center. If you don't have space to grow tomatoes, check out the Farmer's Markets for garden fresh tomatoes and other summer produce.