Harvesting tomatoes in August

Harvesting tomatoes in August.

The first slicing tomatoes and plum tomatoes were picked on August 12. That’s almost embarrassing. What can be done to move up the tomato harvest to, maybe, July 12. That would be noteworthy. Matt’s wild cherry tomatoes were first picked perhaps a week earlier, but still, it seems late to me.

Anyway. It is what it is for this year.

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I’ll start with the slicers. 2 determinate Celebrity plants, and 1 indeterminate New Girl plant. All are producing well. Both varieties are F1 hybrids.

The photo above shows all slicers, but I can’t tell which is which for sure. Celebrities tend to be larger, but they also tend to crack around the stem, which means that often only a half or maybe two-thirds of the tomato is salvageable. Both varieties are delicious.

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The photo above is a good comparison of the 2 varieties. Smaller but perfect New Girl on the left. The New Girl tomatoes have cute pleats, as can be seen toward the bottom of this tomato. The Celebrity tomato on the right is bigger, but note the radial cracks.

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Above is a better view of the cute pleats. Well. I think they are cute. The New Girl is at the bottom left in this photo. The one with the pleats. A Celebrity is directly above. The other 3 are plum tomatoes. More about them below.

We have eaten many slicers in tomato sandwiches, BLTs, and broiled open-faced bacon, cheese, onion, and tomato sandwiches that are a family favorite. When the ripe slicer tomatoes start piling up on the kitchen counter, I make juice to freeze. More about the juice vs. sauce distinction later in this post.

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Above is a Celebrity sliced and ready for sandwiches. Beautiful. I think so. Also delicious. I’ve said that already.

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If I had to choose between Celebrities and New Girls, I guess the New Girl is the better choice because of the cracking situation with the Celebrities. However, the Celebrities are determinate, which means they take up less space in the vegetable garden. They are heavy producers, as can be seen in the photo above. And maybe, maybe, I can remedy the cracking. Supposedly, cracking occurs when the tomatoes are watered erratically, getting too much water sometimes and too little at other times. When they get too much water, the tomato fruits tend to grow too fast and their skins crack as a result. This summer has been dry in this part of New Jersey. I thought I was using drip irrigation judiciously, but. . . . Well, I have a winter to read and think about it. For now, I’m pretty sure that Celebrity and New Girl slicers both will be back next year.

Not so with the plum tomatoes. I wound up with 6 speckled Roman indeterminate heirloom tomato plants, and 2 Amish paste indeterminate heirloom tomato plants. This was not a happy situation–having so many plants of 1 variety. Nevertheless, I had grown speckled Roman tomatoes before with good success, so I thought all would be well and there would be huge quantities of tomato sauce in the freezer to last through the winter.

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Unfortunately, the speckled Romans have been a disaster this year. 1 plant was lost to tomato leaf curl. And then there were 5. 2 speckled Roman plants were planted at the sunny end of the garden in a raised bed that had been a strawberry bed. I thought this was a prime location for the best tomatoes. Not so. Both speckled Roman plants have grown tall. Too tall, I think. But they are not producing. It’s hard to get good photos of tomato plants, but the too large, non-productive tomato plants can be seen in the photo above.

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Then there is the problem of blossom end rot on the speckled Roman tomatoes. This also is supposedly a problem with erratic watering. Too much water, either rain or irrigation, causes a calcium deficiency, and the bottom, or blossom end, of the tomato fruits turns brown, as can be seen in the photo above, taken August 1. When this happens, the fruit must be discarded immediately since the situation only goes from bad to worse. Speckled Roman tomatoes are the only tomatoes to have this problem.

The 2 Amish paste plum tomatoes are OK, although I am confused about them. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, where I got the seeds for both, clearly shows the Amish paste tomato as fat for plums and red. Johnny’s shows speckled Roman as elongated with a yellow stripe. In other years, my experience with these 2 varieties matched the above descriptions.

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This year, the Amish paste tomatoes have yellow stripes. What’s that about. They continue to be fatter and less elongated than the speckled Romans, which is the only way I can tell them apart. But they also have the lovely speckled Roman stripes. Is it a matter of cross-pollination, or what. Why does it bother me. The photo above clearly shows a fat Amish paste tomato, with yellow stripes, at left, and an elongated speckled Roman tomato, with yellow stripes, at right.

Even with all these annoyances, I have to admit that the plum tomato sauce is excellent. At this late stage of my life, I finally figured out that plum tomatoes make sauce, and slicers, if they must be processed, make juice. Last year, I intermingled slicers with plums when I made sauce. Guess what. Some sauce was thick, but some was thin and watery, sort of like tomato juice. This is not good when the recipe wants a thick sauce. Way back in the day when my children were young and I embarked on making tomato sauce, one son always informed me that Ragu sauce was preferable to my homemade sauce. So, I’m a slow learner, but we all agree now that my sauce is better than Ragu. Progress.

This year, I am not mixing slicers with plums when I make sauce. When an abundance of ripe slicers on the kitchen counter tells me that something must be done with them, I make tomato juice, and label it accordingly. I think this juice will be lovely for Manhattan clam chowder, or perhaps in stews where liquid is a plus. It’s also great for virgin Mary’s. The plum tomato sauce is saved for pasta or chicken cacciatora. Remember to label, please.

My basic recipe, whether juice or sauce, is Lidia’s. Olive oil and garlic. Tomatoes. Simmer. Stir in fresh basil. Cool. Put it through a food mill to remove skins. Label. Freeze. Above are photos of the process. I love the food mill. So old-fashioned. I got mine from Lee Valley, but it’s no longer available on their website. The one Lee Valley has now is $109. I know I didn’t spend that much for mine. If you can find a good food mill for a reasonable price, it will produce a better texture than a food processor or submersible blender. I try to do small batches. It’s good to have a little extra to freeze separately in small containers. Always comes in handy.

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Finally, I must once again sing the praises of Matt’s wild cherry tomatoes. Here is a photo of the 3 Matt’s wild cherry plants in the vegetable garden. Quite the jungle. There’s also 1 plant outside the vegetable garden, in an unused cold frame. I don’t water it. It doesn’t care. It produces as much or more than the pampered plants inside the fence. I’ve also pulled up untold numbers of Matt’s wild cherry plants from all over the garden. They are wild and prolific. Sometimes I munch on a few cherry tomatoes before I toss the vines in the trash can.

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The little cherry tomatoes are so sweet. They can be snacked on in the garden. They disappear from the kitchen counter in quick order. They are good in any recipe. Toss them in. They make an excellent salsa. What’s not to like about Matt’s wild cherry tomatoes.

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So. Not a bad tomato season so far. I’m disappointed in the speckled Romans. Will I have enough sauce to last the winter. That’s the question. Depends on how long the tomato harvest lasts into the fall. It’s funny how I never factor harvesting into my work schedule. In lovely wakeful times during the night or early morning, I plan my day in the garden, usually big innovative projects. What happens. I spend most of the day harvesting and cooking. But isn’t that what it’s all about. I think so.

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