The Best of the Bunch
Taste, like love, is a highly subjective thing. With that in mind, here are the favorite tomatoes of a handful of professionals and master gardeners, as well as taste-testers in Franklin County, who sampled about 30 varieties in August.
BrandyBoy: The heirloom Brandywine has long been heralded as tops in taste, but the plants are low producers and susceptible to disease. This Burpee hybrid has great flavor, high yield, and good disease resistance. It's so good, testers refer to it as a ringer, and may take it out of contention in 2012 trials.
Scarlet Red: Deepest red. Testers said it had perfect sugar/acid balance and "real tomato flavor." It's determinate, meaning it's a bushy plant with fruit that ripens all at once. (Indeterminate is the familiar vining tomato whose fruits ripen over the season.) "The plants produce copious amounts of great-tasting, good-looking, medium-sized red tomatoes," testers said.
Celebrity: This was the slicer standard for many years, and while it's been overtaken by BrandyBoy and others, it remains a prolific producer of flavorful red tomatoes.
Carolina Gold and Orange Blossom: Two yellows, both determinate, both good bets.
Pineapple: Yellow-orange-red. While there really aren't any great tomatoes of this color combo, testers found Pineapple provides the most consistent production and good flavor. It's soft and cracks readily, but makes an excellent addition to homemade tomato juice.
Striped German: Yellow-orange-red. Very large, mild flavor. Extremely soft when fully ripe.
Mortgage Lifter (also known as Radiator Charlie): Red. Excellent flavor, high production, moderate disease resistance give this heirloom a leg up on most.
Arkansas Traveler: Red. Very small fruit (5 to 8 ounces) but production's good and flavor excellent.
Marianna's Peace: Pink. Very large fruits (more than 1 pound), great flavor. Needs tall support. After every other heirloom fades, this one keeps producing.
Cherokee Purple and Black Krim: Dark skin and flesh, interesting flavors.
Bush Early Girl: Top slicer for containers. A single plant produces a huge number of great-tasting tomatoes. Pot needs to be at least 14 inches across.
BushSteak: Second only to Bush Early Girl. Heavy producer of large meaty fruit. Needs a roomy pot.
Sweet 'n' Neat (red, scarlet, yellow): Entire series produces copious amounts of delicious fruit on very compact plants. Good for pots or hanging baskets.
Sakura Honey: Red grape. Stood out from the pack in 2011 with amazing flavor and beautiful pink grape-shaped fruit. Easily the standout in flavor.
Red Pearl: Red grape. Excellent flavor, tender skin, high production, and moderate disease resistance. Nice color, highly resistant to cracking.
Sun Gold: The classic yellow cherry. Known as "the candy of the tomato world." High production, moderate disease resistance, "awesome fruit taste," but the tomatoes crack. "Every gardener should have one or two of these plants, so there is something to eat while gardening," testers said.
In the Experts' Own Gardens
Steve Bogash, regional educator with Penn State Extension, Franklin County: BrandyBoy, Sun Gold, Pineapple, Scarlet Red.
Ray Eckhart, master gardener with Franklin County extension: Aunt Ruby German Green (heirloom); BrandyBoy, Brandywine, Dr. Wyche Yellow (heirloom).
Chelsey Fields, Burpee vegetable production manager: BrandyBoy and Big Mama (paste), both from Burpee; Sun Gold.
Bill Kozma, Delaware County master gardener: Early Girl; Better Boy (popular hybrid); Sun Sugar (orange cherry); Beefmaster (huge, 2 lb. fruits); Roma (paste).
Sandy Paul, master gardener in Chesterfield, Burlington County: Cherokee Purple; Ramapo, delicious, old-time classic that disappeared from seed catalogs many years ago and was reintroduced in 2008; Sun Gold; Early Girl (fruits in 59 days); Brandywine (red); Amish Paste, Viva Italia, Roma and San Marzano (paste); Rainbow (heirloom).
And the Occasional Dud
Mountain Fresh and Mountain Spring hybrids. "They just don't have the flavor," says Bogash.