Heirloom tomato taste-off of 2011

AC Joseph's annual tomato taste-off comes around in September. For the past two years, I have attended and documented this event not just for fun but also for my next year's pick of heirloom tomato seedlings. AC and her friends, myself included, take tomatoes quite seriously. Come August-September, we enjoy Palo Alto nature's bounty with fresh buffalo mozzarella or burrata, fresh olive oil from Sigona's, fresh basil, and various other herbs and greens from my garden nearly every single day. And a basket of them makes a great gift. The rainbow of flavors, shapes and colors of heirloom tomato beauties are a feast for the senses; and they go well with a variety of summery white and rosé wines on a warm Palo Alto weekend.

It seems that 2011 has been a great vintage for tomatoes in the Bay Area. The warm, dry weather cooperated, and there are more flavorful darlings this year than in the last two. Out of 3-4 dozen varieties in the contest, I found at least a dozen that I would welcome any day. Some of the past winners were retired this year. You can see last year's results here. There were also new varieties that came to the scene for the first time and immediately stood out.

After hours of chopping, tables was finally set, and 33 scorers armed with sheets, pencils and toothpicks progressed through the heirlooms with all the seriousness of an Olympic panel. I thought this year orange and yellow tomatoes particularly excelled, while cherry tomatoes bursting with concentrated flavors were a hit as always. Some heirlooms tasted exotic, reminiscent of citrus, apricots, apples, and even carrots. As in wine, when evaluating tomatoes, I look for visual appeal, texture, and complexity and balance of flavor - a combination of tartness, sweetness, and juiciness.

Here is the list of varieties at the competition: Japanese Black Trifele, Chocolate Stripes, Morado, Gypsy, Blau Kazakhstan, Purple Calabash, Black Sea Man, Black Ethiopian, Costuluto Genovese, San Marzano, Bloody Butcher, Zapotec Pleated, Taraschenko, Pink Accordion, Red Boar, Dr. Wyche's, Lemon Oxheart, Golden King, Peppermint, Beauty Queen, Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge, Marvel Striped, Amana Orange, Orange Icicle, Phantom Du Laos, Great White, Ivory Egg, Principe Borghese, Black Cherry, Green Grape, Sunsweet, Yellow Pear, Emerald Apple, and Aunt Ruby's German Green.

Group's favorites in their respective categories were: Chocolate Stripes, Pink Accordion, Amana Orange, Great White, Sunsweet (cherry) and Aunt Ruby's German Green. Most overall votes went to Sunsweet cherry.

My faves were: Green Grape (cherry), Golden King, Emerald Apple, Sunsweet (cherry), Chocolate Stripes, Red Accordion, Phantom Du Laos, Red Boar, and Peppermint.

And after the scoring was all done, as the sun set and the weather cooled, the party kicked into another gear, with AC's husband JJ and his honky-tonk band putting the groove on to the cheer of the adoring tomato fans.


plumbing said…
Tomatoes are good for the heart. I think celebrating an annual taste off is a good idea.
Unknown said…
Just wanted to let you know about a Scavenger Hunt photo contest that Gardening Know How is running for the "Golden King" tomato. Here are more details on this contest if you have a photo you would like to submit in consideration for a prize: http://blog.gardeningknowhow.com/giveaways/scavenger-hunt-contest-for-the-golden-king-tomato/

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