Today, I harvested the first tomatoes in my vegetable garden: two little Sungolds, the cherry-sized variety that are so super sweet and irresistible, I’m feeling rather virtuous that I gave one to my husband instead of eating them both myself. I can’t wait for tomato season to really begin. This year, I’m growing seven heirloom varieties, along with a few mystery plants from seeds I saved that lost their label. Sungold is not quite an heirloom, having been introduced in 1990-something, and it actually bears well, unlike many heirloom varieties. But even though the old-fashioned, non-hybridized types aren’t as prolific, and they tend to get a little blight and other horticultural ailments, the fruit they do produce is so much tastier than most hybrids — and leagues ahead of anything you find in a supermarket — that I’m spoiled now, and don’t want any other kind. As for those pasty, insipid, mealy, tomato-shaped objects available in the winter — well, my opinion on that subject is evident. Leaving a bit of stalk attached and calling them “vine-ripened” isn’t going to fool me, either, although I have to admire the marketing effort.
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Coincidentally, today I ran across a news item about a team of plant scientists who have detected the genes that could make hybridized tomatoes taste better. According to the story, Americans eat 15 million tons of tomatoes a year, and most of them are those bland tomato look-alikes mentioned above, bred for shelf life and the ability to withstand long-distance shipping at the expense of flavor. These scientist-types collected wild tomatoes from the jungles of South America and the Galapagos Islands and isolated the genes that gave them the trait for sweet taste. The article drifted into talk of chloroplasts, organelles, transcription factors and the like, as which point my mind drifted off. But the upshot is that these “flavor traits” can probably be bred into hybrid varieties so that we can have round, perfect fruit on high-yield, disease-resistant plants that still taste good.
Yeah, well, I won’t hold my breath. Until science sorts it out, let’s all just grow our own tomatoes, or buy them at farm stands when they’re really fresh off the vine.
A question: Has anyone out there grown a paste tomato called Speckled Roma? I’m growing them for the first time this year, and my plants look kind of frilly and … wimpy, is the word, I guess. I’d love to know if this is “normal” for Speckleds.