In Search of the World's Best Tomatoes

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After 30 years of growing tomatoes, I am still discovering great tomato varieties, and there’s no end in sight. Consider the numbers. Let’s say there are 800 legitimate tomato varieties, and you have room to grow 4 varieties each year. After gardening for a century, you will have tasted about half of them.

What tomatoes will you taste from your garden this year? Flavor is the thing in home grown tomatoes, so choosing varieties with complex flavors and pleasing textures is fundamental to a successful season. You will also need to provide organically enriched soil in a very sunny site, because fertile soil and plenty of warm sun make good tomatoes even better.


Naming Names

Two years ago, while researching America's Favorite Tomatoes for Mother Earth News magazine, I heard many familiar names like ‘Sun Gold’ (yellow cherry) and ‘Brandywine’(a large-fruited red heirloom) – two varieties often seen near the top of lists of taste test winners. But I also learned of many great-tasting varieties I’d never grown, so I’ve started a new list – call it my life list of garden tomatoes. The latest name to be added, 'Alicante', I picked up from Jeremy’s report on best tomato varieties for the UK.

What varieties are in my garden this year? Here’s the who’s who of this season’s tomato patch, here in southwest Virginia, USA.

 Because we love them:

'Stupice' is back for its third season, because The Bean Man (my fella) eats a dozen of the golf ball-size red beauties at a sitting, straight from the bowl. This heirloom variety from Czechoslovakia is early, long-bearing, and very easy to grow.

'Sugary' hybrid pumps out hundreds of teardrop-shaped cherry tomatoes with sweet, fruity flavor. Cut in half and popped into the dehydrator, they make fabulous dried tomatoes.

For special colors and flavors:

'Black Krim' is new (for me) this year, chosen for its reputation for rich, smoky flavor with notes of honey and wine. This Russian heirloom is also reported to be more productive and easier to grow compared to other "black" tomatoes, which are really dark purple.

'Persimmon' is also a first-timer, which can pass for an orange in size and color. Every garden needs a tomato or two that bear yellow, orange, or green fruits because they look so stunning on the plate. Last year I went green with ‘Green Zebra’ (it was delicious and gorgeous), but this year I’m trying ‘Persimmon’, which I’ve heard is among the best tasting of all orange varieties.


For cooking and canning:

'Roma VF' always impresses me with its versatility. The oblong fruits are juicy enough to use in salads or on sandwiches, but firm enough to make thick sauce. The plants are also phenomenally productive. 

'San Marzano' is super firm and dry, which helps balance the juiciness of other tomatoes when they all get pushed through the food mill together on sauce-making day. This workhorse cooking tomato is chosen for texture more than flavor.

It’s a mixed group, but that’s how I like it. A few hybrids for dependability, some fine open-pollinated varieties for flavor, and others that will fill canning jars in style. Please join the conversation and tell us about the star varieties in your tomato patch. I know I’m not the only gardener who’s keeping a life list. 

- Barbara Pleasant

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Show Comments


"Celebrity tomatoes are a med hybrid worth trying in any garden. But it's hard to beat big boys and better boys. Not to mention beefsteak, hearty beefsteak, old german, brandywine, early girl, Mr Stripey, golden jubilee and of course cherry tomatoes. These are the 11 varieties that make up my 78 tomato plant garden in central KY."
Harry B Jones on Friday 15 May 2009
"My tomatoes have withered, that is they have close facing inward, the leaves feel normal, but they look horrible. Please help."
Shinita on Friday 15 May 2009
"I'm growing cherry tomato 'Yellow Pear' this year - i tasted some from a friend last year - delicious! 'Gardener's Delight' is an old favourite, and I'm trying 'Ferline' for it's reputed resistance to blight. I had some seeds of 'Olirose' and 'Chadwick Cherry' left over from last year, so I'm growing them again, but wasn't very impressed with either."
Elspeth on Monday 18 May 2009
"Shinita, I would check the usual things for your tomatoes: have they had plenty of light, not got too cold (or had sudden changes of temperature) and had enough water but not been waterlogged? Then after that, perhaps take a look at this article I wrote on the nutrients they need: Good luck."
Jeremy Dore on Monday 18 May 2009
"My choices every year have to include "Juliette" it is bigger then a cherry and smaller then a Roma but has the meatiness of the roma ,I think it makes a good salad and salsa tomato( I have to munch on them while doing gardening). I mix it up when it comes to slicing. Last year were Goliath because of being heat tolerant and this year I am trying Arkansas traveler, Brandywine. This year did not have time to till under and hand prepped beds and found out I have BUNCH of volunteer tomatos (Juliette, lemon boy and goliath) I think.. it will be fun trying to figure that out.. The Juliette have already started producing and I am just waiting for them to ripen up. "
Serena on Wednesday 27 May 2009
"Last year all tomatoes on our allotment site (that's 78 plots!) succumbed to the dreaded blight. This year I am experimenting with a 4ft high fleece barrier around my tomatoes and the occasional light spray of Dithane. Hopefully this will work."
PumpKing on Thursday 28 May 2009
"Yes, last year was particularly bad for blight here in the UK. I'm taking an alternative approach - plenty of organic compost feed for the tomatoes, coupled with crossing my fingers and hoping for less damp weather!"
Jeremy Dore on Thursday 28 May 2009
"Can you comment on "dry farming" tomatoes? I know a farmer in my area (No. Calif.) who plants out her tomatoes, soaks them thoroughly, mulches, and then never waters them again (we have no rain in summer here). Her fruit has the most intense, delicious flavor you've ever tried--she attributes it to the dry farming technique. I'm trying it with some of mine this year. "
Linda on Monday 1 June 2009
"Linda, Don't know a lot about dry farming but it is meant to produce beautiful flavored tomatoes as you say. The key is to have an enriched, heavy soil that will preserve some of the rainwater moisture deep down - you can't do it on sandy soil like I have. I would say definitely give it a go on some of your crops and let us know the results!"
Jeremy Dore on Monday 1 June 2009
"Linda, Your question about dry farming tomatoes has been picked up by Barbara Pleasant this week - see her article on how to grow successfully using this technique."
Jeremy Dore on Friday 5 June 2009
"Would love to add the Cherokee Purple tomato to this elite list! It's large size, lovely green shoulders with purple-red body and deliciously balanced taste make it a favorite from my garden. I've read that it is not a big producer, but there were sufficient tomatoes from 4 plants for the two of us and our grateful neighbors. "
Sarah DiGioia on Tuesday 9 June 2009
"More varieties - every year I try a few new varieties to add to my favorites. One that everyone has to try is the Longkeeper. This tomato can be picked in Oct. at the end of season and will last on counter tops, into the new year. They have an orange color skin but are red on the inside. No more supermarket cardboard tomatoes with this one. Several people mentioned the black/purple tomatoes, which are the ugliest but best tasting tomatoes. So I decided to try the Brown Berry and Black Cherry this season for sweet and different additions to salads (along with SS100, white and yelow cherry types). And, one last newbie this year - Wapsipinicon Peach. It is a 2" peach color, peach size fruit that even has a bit of fuzz to the skin. Keeping my fingers crossed, but it was a sellout at the Philadelphia Flower Show this year."
ed pierzynski on Friday 12 June 2009
"I seem to remember hearing that allowing more than five trusses per plant would exhaust the plant, the fruits wouldn't ripen, etc. Disaster! Is there any truth in this, or do I let my plants grow merrily bigger?"
Elspeth on Wednesday 8 July 2009
"Every tomato is a bit different, and how much (or little) pruning you do depends on the variety, your climate, and what type of trellis you are using. There is so much to explain that I will put together a helpful guide in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, thanks for asking such a good question. As long as any tomato plant receives plenty of sun and good care, it will bear a good crop. "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 8 July 2009
" For those that suffered the blight problem......have you ever tried grafting to a tomato root stock for better desease resistance. Early Goliath is an inexpensive seed to use as a root stock/"
Harold Walker on Thursday 31 December 2009
"Cherokee Purple with its full bodied smokey flavor was a staple in my garden last year. The yield was great and after ripening the left over green fruits indoors my family had tomatoes on Thanksgiving Day. What a treat!"
Donna Pearson on Monday 8 March 2010

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