Winter Taste of Tomatoes
At this time of year, the magnificent taste and flavor of
freshly harvested tomatoes is a mere memory. At times, this
memory overcomes our better judgment; and we rush to the nearest
supermarket to purchase one of those smooth, almost?red items
labeled "vine?ripened tomatoes."
The tomato looks good, feels good, but tastes??and I use
this word loosely—terrible. We quickly realize where
the saying "I would rather fight than switch" originated.
It must have first been uttered by a gardener who expected
a fresh tomato, but then instead got a taste of this fraud!
"Homegrown" is also applied to these winter phonies
disguised as tomatoes. I don't doubt they are homegrown, but
at whose home and where? Why can't we purchase garden?fresh
tomatoes when we really need them? There is a popular misconception
that "vine ripened" as used in the produce trade,
means a tomato that is fully colored at the time it is picked.
This is not so. "Vine ripe" is a very ambiguous
and loosely-used term.
The color distinction is important to the produce trade because
it has some influence on storage and ripening methods. "Vine
ripe" tomatoes are almost always grown on poles or stakes.
Frequent picking is required to meet "breaking"
or "turning" color standards, and yields are higher
than for bush?type tomatoes that are picked less often at
the "mature green" stage.
Everyone in the tomato business would like to deliver a better?flavored
tomato to the consumer. But there are serious economic and
genetic obstacles. The full?ripe tomato that can be grown
in a garden is much too soft to be handled through commercial
channels without enormous loss, which would be directly reflected
in cost. But in breeding tomatoes for firmness and other characteristics
important to commercial production and handling, breeders
find what appears to be some genetic linkages that make it
difficult to provide the "garden" type flavor, particularly
when tomatoes are produced for harvest at times other late
summer and early fall.
In effect, some of the genes influencing levels of acid, sugar,
and aromatics seem to be tied to genes affecting other characteristics
in ways that make it very difficult to produce a commercial
market variety with the good flavor of a garden variety. There
has been progress in breeding market tomatoes with higher
flavor, and we can expect more improvement, but the technical
obstacles are complex and even obstinate.
The ability to produce high flavor is also limited by such
factors as maintaining temperatures under 55 degrees F. until
tomatoes are fully ripe. Retailers and consumers often store
tomatoes at lower temperatures.
Practically speaking, there is no way to produce a tomato
under commercial conditions then deliver it to you through
retail food stores that will have a flavor comparable to the
tomato you may grow in your garden. So what's the answer?
Tune up the old roto-tiller, start exercising, and get in
shape for spring gardening. It's time to plant seeds of beets,
cabbage, carrots, collards, Swiss chard, lettuce, potatoes,
radishes, and turnips and transplants of broccoli, cauliflower
(Snowcrown variety only), onions, peppers and tomatoes.
Also, be sure to try to purchase varieties recommended by
the Extension service because these varieties are always selected
for taste as well as superior yields. Taste panels are composed
of members of the volunteer groups that help plant and harvest
vegetable variety trials for the Texas Cooperative Extension.
Such tomatoes as Merced, Heatwave, SunMaster, Surefire, and
Tomato 444 have been discovered using this process.
See the data for tomato selections at: