All Tomatoes Are Not Created Equal

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“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is more along the lines of “You can’t judge a tomato by its skin” when it comes to gardening.  Depending on what you are wanting out of your tomato, some kinds may be better than others.

When I first started canning I didn’t quite understand this concept.  I was mainly doing jams, as tomatoes scared me a bit … and I did not have a pressure canner, which is needed for most tomato products.  After a few years I took the plunge and canned up my first tomatoes.

Here are a few things I learned:

  1. Preserving tomatoes as crushed tomatoes, you may want to pay attention unless you like a lot of juice in your jars.  However, it will not matter a whole lot if you get or grow the wrong kind.  It is more of an annoyance later if you have to cook your dish a bit longer or strain your tomatoes first.
  2. When it comes to doing something like sauce, however, the type of tomato makes a large difference.  Being the one for learning the hard way, I learned this the hard way.

The first year I decided to make sauce was also the first year I got a food mill.  Around midnight of putting the first batch through I was ready to give up canning altogether.  “How do people think this is the way to do it?  This doesn’t save money, it just wastes your time.  I would be better off doing internet surveys right now and going to buy sauce with the money I make.” Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. Almost throw the food mill out the window.

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Sauce Tomatoes

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Slicing (juicy) Tomatoes

What was the problem?  My tomatoes were the wrong kind.  There was too much liquid in them and they were not being pushed through the food mill.  However, I did not figure this out till I got a batch of sauce tomatoes and realized how easy and nice it was to use the food mill.  It also saves a lot of time cooking them down. (I have another tip for this, but that is a different post.)

The picture below shows several different kinds of tomatoes sliced so you can compare the insides.  I took this picture last fall to demonstrate the differences.  This happened to be the selection of tomatoes I had that night to process.

DSCN8512The two tomatoes at the bottom of the photo, the yellow one and the red one to its right, have more ‘meat’ to them and less area for seeds and juice.  These tomatoes would have been better for sauce than, say, the one in the middle on the left.  That one has more seeds and juice than ‘meat’, making it a good slicing tomato for  your hamburger but not so great to make sauce.

“But this isn’t canning season.  Why are we talking about this now?”

Glad you asked.  While it may not be canning season, it is the start of gardening season.  The decisions you make now will affect you later on down the line, such as when you are ready to can or freezer up your produce.  Are you looking to make sauce?  Grill out burgers? Make tomato jam? Have crushed/whole/stewed tomatoes?  You need to make sure you have the right tomato for the job.

Do not select a juicy, seed filled tomato if you are looking to make a thick sauce – unless you want more work, including cooking for hours, later on.  While the shape may not matter, you will want to look for something that has few seeds and more ‘meat’ to it.  Many heirlooms are a great choice.

If you are interested in using them on a sandwich, either type of tomato will do.  Your selection may be based more on shape, size, and flavor.

If you are looking for a tomato to use on salads, you may prefer a cherry tomato over a grape tomato.  My husband likes a salad tomato that will fit in his mouth without being cut.  If I am not able to get those, then I like to use a roma tomato, as it is a smaller size and I am not left with half a tomato to use before it goes bad.  One year I grew a very small tomato, it was about the size of my pinkie fingernail.  While these were great in salads, it took forever to pick them and get any real quantity.  I had gotten them by accident, but did enjoy growing something out of the norm for me.

While this post has been about tomatoes, it really goes for any plant you plan on putting in your garden.  Take the time now to think through what it is you are looking to get from your garden.  Only put in the plants you are looking to use, and selection the varieties that will give you the end results you are hoping to achieve.  The gardening experience will be much more rewarding and enjoyable.

Happy gardening!

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