Red, yellow, purple or green? Huge, small, plum or round? Some might say there are too many choices, but you can decide next Saturday, April 14, when the U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County hold their annual tomato sale.
Bringing you our old and new favorites, this sale is our primary fundraiser for the workshops and other educational opportunities that we provide to the Napa Valley community. This year, the sale features 28 different varieties, so prepare your planting beds, bring a box and get ready to grow summer tomatoes.
If you believe any tomato worth its salt is red and round, you have many choices. Early Girl is a dependable favorite with four- to six-ounce fruits, perfect for BLTs or sliced on a burger. Better Boy can produce huge red beefsteak tomatoes, some weighing as much as one pound. Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red produces two-inch fruits weighing six to 10 ounces, with good acidity and firm, juicy flesh. It is reported to have “earthy nuances” and is a new addition to our sale.
Bloody Butcher is ready to pick in eight weeks. Its fruits are deep red to purplish-black, three to four ounces each, borne in clusters of five to nine tomatoes. Crimson Carmello offers abundant round, red tomatoes for cutting in wedges or slices and enjoying cooked or raw. In my garden, Crimson Carmello vines were pest- and disease-free and produced until frost. Boxcar Willie is an all-purpose six- to 10-ounce tomato with smooth, reddish-orange skin. Rutgers 250, developed at Rutgers University and considered a classic Jersey tomato, rounds out the sale’s selection of red slicers.
For pasta lovers, Big Mama supplies enormous, meaty, plum-shaped fruits that cook quickly into thick, creamy sauces. The fruits are easy to peel and have few seeds, so making sauce with them is a breeze. For traditional Italian paste tomatoes, choose between Roma and Super San Marzano, both heirlooms prized for cooking and for sun drying. Patio Paste can be grown in containers on decks or balconies, yet the small two- to three-inch fruits still deliver full tomato flavor.
Gladiator completes this year’s sauce-tomato selection. It is resistant to blossom-end rot and yields eight-ounce fruits for sauce and soup. Home canners and picklers know that plum tomatoes fit easily in canning jars. Pickling is a good use for early, under-ripe plum tomatoes and any stragglers that fail to ripen before frost.
Ready to branch out into the rainbow world of tomatoes? Black Beauty is sometimes described as the world’s darkest tomato, with blue-black skin and deep red flesh. Black Krim is a deep reddish-brown tomato with a flavor described as smoky. It does very well in Napa Valley. Chocolate Stripes bears beautiful striped fruit in mahogany and deep green. The fruits have rich, earthy flavor and some weigh up to one pound. Green Zebra is a sweeter tomato with a sharp finish, delicious eaten straight off the vine or in salads.
Kellogg’s Breakfast is a beautiful yellow-gold tomato, beefsteak size, with a sweet, tangy flavor. It was a favorite in my garden last year. Most yellow tomatoes are lower in acid than most red varieties, so consider Kellogg’s Breakfast if you are looking for a mellow tomato.
Jaune Flammé has many fans on the Master Gardener tomato committee. A French heirloom that bears beautiful deep orange fruit on long tresses, Jaune Flamme blends sweet and tart tastes for a multi-use three- to four-ounce tomato. Summer of Love yields hefty, multi-colored red, green and yellow fruit with great flavor. It’s a descendant of Berkeley Tie Dye, but it ripens a little earlier.
Finally, choose from six varieties of cherry tomatoes. Barry’s Crazy Cherry boasts huge clusters of oval, pale-yellow cherry tomatoes. Black Cherry delivers classic tomato taste in a little purplish-black package, and Super Sweet 100s are cherry-sized, scarlet-red and borne on long clusters. Super Sweet 100 is a reliable producer in a variety of climates and more tolerant of drought and heat than other varieties. Plant this tomato near your favorite garden chair or near a path you often trod, and I’ll bet much of the crop will never make it to the kitchen. Cherry tomatoes seem made to be eaten on site, at least at my house.
Remember Rapunzel’s tresses? Rapunzel cherry tomatoes produce bright red cherry tomatoes on extra-long, cascading tresses with up to 40 tomatoes per tress. Should you eat them, or decorate your summer table with their beauty? That’s a tough question. And, finally, consider Blush, a bright yellow tomato with a red gleam and a sweet, fruity flavor.
Did I remember to say bring a box? See you next Saturday.
Tomato Plant Sale: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold their sixth annual Tomato Plant Sale on Saturday, April 14, from 9 a.m. until sold out, at 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Find more than 4,000 tomato starts in 28 varieties, from popular heirlooms to new hybrids. These Master Gardener-grown seedlings include varieties suitable for eating and cooking, plus cherry tomatoes of many colors, and early, mid- and late-season varieties. A team of tomato experts will be on hand to answer questions.