“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato,” writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard once observed.
This year, Nancy Zorn and her family have enjoyed the pleasure of a bountiful harvest of tomatoes and other vegetables, which are tended on their five acres of property in unincorporated Warrenville. Zorn has been a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for five years and has extensive experience in starting all her vegetables from seed indoors.
Zorn only grows heirloom varieties. Unlike hybrid tomatoes, the seeds collected from one will produce plants with most of the characteristics of the parent plant.
“We grow heirlooms because we think they are fun. Oddly shaped, beautiful colors…more (genetically) diverse than hybrids and certainly fabulously tasty,” said Zom.
At a mid-September tour of Zorn’s garden, the tomatoes were still abundant and delicious. Her cherry tomato garden was filled with colorful varieties of many shapes and sizes. She loves to prepare a fresh cherry tomato salad with peach balsamic vinegar, olive oil and chopped basil.
“It’s delicious and beautiful with so many shapes and colors of cherry tomatoes!” she said.
‘Amy’s Apricot’ is a very small cherry that was an abundant producer of sweet, full flavor tomatoes. Just slightly larger than ‘Amy’s Apricot’ and similar in flavor is ‘Sungold,’ yet the color is a deeper golden-orange. ‘Yellow Pear’ is a beautiful, mild tasting, tiny pear shaped tomato that is borne in clusters on 8-foot vines, making a tall or wide support necessary. Also needing room to grow is ‘Black Cherry,’ a 1-inch round tomato that looks brownish-deep purple and has a wonderful taste.
Zorn does like to try new varieties and this year added ‘Principe Borghese’ because it was listed as retaining its flavor as a dried tomato.
“I find the fresh tomato boring and tasteless. But the dried tomatoes have a rich, fruity taste," Zorn said. "It’s hard to believe it’s the same tomato!”
With so many varieties, is it possible to have a favorite?
“My all-time favorite is ‘African Queen.' It gets really large, only has a few seeds and lots of meat and it’s juicy but not drippy. When you cut it, it’s like slicing into a thick steak and the flavor is wonderful!” she said.
Two more favorites are ‘Goldman’s Italian American’ for tomato paste and ‘Sophie’s Choice’ for an excellent early July tomato.
Email your home garden and lawn questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the Master Gardener Helpline at 630/955-1123. Visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/.
Julie Moore is a Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage County.