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The Lazy Farmer

Storing the Harvest


Row after row of jewel toned fruits and vegetables line the canning room shelves.   Bags of halved peppers, green beans, peas, and corn fill the freezer along with foraged berries from the wild part of our land.  Dried tomatoes, herbs, and shelled beans fill colorful jars on the kitchen counters.  Our sour cherries are frozen, canned, and dried along with apples and peaches from a neighboring farm.  Pesto and chutneys fill the shelves.  Flavored vinegars and oils wait to add zest to our meals.  Over 40 cured winter squash decorate my son’s music studio in our basement.  While boxes of cured sweet potatoes and potatoes are stacked in cool storage.  Our cold storage (a dedicated refrigerator) is overflowing with fall apples, winter radishes, turnips, cabbage, and rutabagas.  I am ceaselessly amazed by how much of our produce we are able to enjoy throughout the year. 


When we moved to our few acres of heaven thirteen years ago, I didn’t know a dehydrator from a pressure cooker.  I’d never heard of blanching to stop enzyme activity.  I’d never successfully grown anything but tomatoes, a few bush beans, and a single row of corn.  I knew my grandmothers had gardened and canned, and I was close to aunts and cousins who still did so.  I was pretty sure I could figure it out with a little help from family. 

So I planted a garden – see Rule Breaking Gardening for that particular adventure!  I bought a deep pan for canning in a boiling water bath.  My husband surprised me that first Christmas with Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving.  And I purchased canning jars, lids, and rings.  I started with tomatoes because that is, after all, why we all really garden. Then I expanded out into fruit pie fillings and jams.  Did you know that it is nearly impossible to get jam to “a full rolling boil” on a glass-topped electric range?  I finally learned why when the appliance repair man explained that these types of burners sense when the pan is hot and cycle off periodically.  Lots of ruined jam paved the way to that discovery!


Things got a little more expensive, and we became commensurately more committed to the process with the purchase of an outdoor gas camp stove.  My sweet husband researched carefully and found a double burner stove used by beer brewers that could bear the weight of my canning pot.  This gave me the added benefit of taking the heat outside instead of steaming up my kitchen.  Then we were given a brand new pressure canner.  We’d met some people who had over prepared for Y2K and found themselves with several still-in-the-box pressure canners in their basement.  Now I could explore canning low acid vegetables, soups, and meats.  If you find the thought of canning daunting, look at the Home Canning Guide for step-by-step instructions.

 Along the way I experimented with both canning and freezing different vegetables to determine which method we liked best for each food.  It often came down to how I used the specific crop after putting it up.  At one point I gave up on freezing green beans even though we thought they tasted better.  Turns out you need to blanch them for a couple of minutes in boiling water, quickly submerge them in ice cold water, and then dry them quickly prior to freezing them.  We no longer can many green beans but our freezer is stocked with them.  The variety matters as well.  We now use Cantare bush green beans exclusively for our frozen bean harvest.


We also discovered, by trial and error, how much we needed of each food and which one we’d really use throughout the year.  My first year growing turnips I got carried away only to learn that there really is a limit to how many turnips we care to eat.  Then I stumbled on winter radishes which were a game changer.  I still grow and store turnips, especially since we learned that Boule D’or turnips maintain a milder taste throughout their growth.  But I preserve a much larger harvest of winter radishes.  They are more colorful, cook up sweeter, and are tasty raw dipped in lemony hummus.  We currently grow two Indian varieties:  Pusa Jamuni with purple flesh, and Pusa Gulabi which are bright fuchsia colored.  The Chinese Red Meat (also called Watermelon) radish and Shawo Fruit radish with its vibrant green flesh are both from China.  We serve their colorful slices mixed together in crystal bowls to the amazement of our guests.  To eat these radishes hot we cube them, toss them in olive oil and kosher salt, and roast them until just softened.  This pretty green, pink, and red dish is sweet on the palate and lovely on the plate.

 winter radishes

Tantalizing Tomatoes are another matter.  I’ve yet to grow more than I could use!  Once all the fresh eating is done, my husband’s addiction is my homemade Tomato Basil Soup.  Once unfortunate year I only canned 30 quarts for the three of us which were long gone by February.  Looking into my husband’s sad eyes, I opened all my remaining jars of canned tomatoes and quickly turned them into the soup, which I then re-canned.  Lesson learned!  Forty jars of Tomato Basil soup is our absolute minimum to make it through the winter and spring.

With so many greens (Swiss chard, kale, lettuce, and cabbage) growing into the winter and coming back early spring, I’ve stopped trying to freeze greens.  During the month or two that I can’t pick them from my garden I simply buy them from the store or meet the need with sprouts and microgreens grown indoors.

What are your favorite foods to can?  Which do you like better frozen?  What uses have you found for dehydrated vegetables?  Now is the time to start planning what you’ll grow and store next year. 

Jeweled Jars: The Usual and Unusual Suspects

jeweled jams 

What unique foods do you “put up” at the end of the growing season?  Which garden jewels merit jar space on your pantry shelves?  Read on to learn about some of our favorites.

I love flowers, especially the edible ones!  And they make their way into my preserving recipes.  Lavender pairs delightfully with many fruits so I put up many jars of Peach Lavender and Cherry Lavender jam.  Vibrantly colored jellies are also made from edible flowers.  BouquetBanquet has recipes for Peppery Nasturtium Jelly, Dandelion Jelly (tastes like honey!), and Lavender Jelly which is excellent as a meat glaze.  Use either of the last two recipes as a base from which to whip up some sweet flower jellies such as Hibiscus and Red Clover, Rose Petal, or Rose of Sharon with Honeysuckle.  Try these on pound cake, ice cream, or in crepes with ricotta cheese.

Pickles, chutneys, and salsas are important to us as we enjoy charcuterie and cheese boards.  Over the years we’ve narrowed cucumber pickles down to Amish Garlic Sweet Dill (which covers just about all the traditional flavors in one pickle) and Pepper Pickles made with jalapeno peppers.  We also make a generous amount of bright red Cinnamon Pickles with fermented cucumbers and lots of cinnamon oil.  My fermenting crocks permanently smell of cinnamon from making so many of these.  Dilly Beans are a favorite in the middle of winter.  We use a broad wax bean called Gold of Bacau which stays firm yet tender through the canning process.  Dilled cucumber relish is a must for burgers.  Hot Salsa and sweeter Peach/Tomato/Pear Salsa bring summer back to life after the tomato season is over.  Cherry Chutney sparkles with pork entrees and on the cheese board.

savory tomatoes

Tomatoes crown the canning season (as well as the dehydrating we do).  We preserve them into:

  • Tomato Basil Soup
  • Bruschetta
  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Spaghetti Sauce
  • Various salsas
  • Spicy Tomato Jam

Sweet Onion Jam isn’t made with tomatoes but it pairs quite deliciously with cheese.  Our dehydrated tomatoes and tomato powder fill glass jars just waiting for moisture to reinvigorate them as paste, sauce, or in stews for a burst of sweet tomato flavor during winter.

 soup and pickles

Lots of fruits get canned in our house as we have a couple of sour cherry bushes, while Japanese Wineberries and wild blackberries grow along our woods edge.  A neighboring farmer is the peach and apple expert – many bushels of his produce ends up in our pantry.  Our own concord grapes and pears round out our local fruit.  In addition to jams and jellies, they end up in jars as juice, fruit butter or sauce, pie filling, shortcake topping, and sliced fruit.  Lots of them end up dehydrated or frozen as well.

 favorite fruits

With the help of a pressure canner, homemade stews and soups line the shelves ready for spur of the moment meals.  Being able to make and can our own bone broth from the animals we raise greatly increases the depth of flavor in these preserved foods as well as what we make from scratch during the year.  While we primarily freeze green beans, we always can a case of late purple bush beans because it tenderizes them.  An overabundance of winter squash cans up nicely when there are too many to winter store before we’d use them.

These are the jeweled jars that line our shelves:  orange, red, green, yellow, purple, beige, pink, and brown.  Some, like the peaches, pears, and apples, taste similar from year to year because we use the same varieties and the same recipes.  Others, anything made with tomatoes, are a bit like making craft wine.  The varieties ripening at any point in time can vary dramatically, changing the flavor and color of each batch of preserved food.  And every year there’s something new to try.  What will you put up this year?

Succession Planting for Lazy Chicken Feed

You plant your bush bean seeds and wait patiently until little green sprouts emerge from the ground.  Your plants grow, leaves unfurl, and flowers appear.  One morning you spy tiny beans hanging from the plants.  The beans grow longer.  You finally begin to harvest them for dinner.

Blog20  green bean harvest

The next morning you find a few holes in the leaves.  Small yellow larvae show up on the plants.  They multiply.  Now many of the beans have holes in them.  Your harvest seems ruined.  But it depends what you think you are growing, now doesn’t it?  So when are bean beetle larvae a good thing?  When you are growing your own chicken food!

 Blog20  bean beetle larvae

For years we fought against bean beetles.  We handpicked them, we used organic sprays, and we rotated the plants.  Nothing worked well.  If you pick before they reach full maturity, a good bush bean harvest should continue for many weeks.  New flowers continue to form when you pick frequently.  Yet we kept losing our crop to the bean beetles after only a few harvests.

Wait a minute!  We also raise chickens.  Chickens eat bugs and larvae.  We were getting good at growing bugs.  Why were we fighting them so hard?  Sometimes you just need to look at your problems from another angle.  So now we grow beans, and we grow bugs.  Here’s how it works.

 Blog20  more bean beetles

Starting at the beginning of the growing season, we plant a small patch of bush beans every three weeks in a different location.  The plants grow, we harvest beans, and the bugs come.  We do nothing.  As soon as the bugs move from the leaves to the beans themselves, we stop harvesting.  We pull the plants and drop them off in the chicken yard compost pile.  The chickens go wild eating their home-delivered dinner of bugs and larvae.  They eat some of the leaves and vines.  They compost the rest.  We later move the compost back into the garden.

 Blog20  chicken dinner

By now, we’re picking beans from the next planting.  Plant, pick, pull, and deliver dinner to the chickens.  Repeat.  How easy is that?!

 Blog20  happy chickens

Growing beans, and bugs, this way takes planning.  Our annual garden plan incorporates small planting areas that come available for beans every three weeks throughout the season.  We start a few weeks before the last frost planting Royal Purple Pod Bush Beans which tolerant cold weather more reliably.  We move on to Dragon Tongue and Cantare Bush Beans for our main summer crops.  Then back to the purple bush beans for fall harvests.  Most years we harvest beans and bugs from mid-May through early November.  That’s almost six months of free chicken food coming out of our zone 6b garden.

 Blog20  dragon tongue beans

We’re happy because it means less work.  The chickens are happy because it means more food.  So what about you?  Are you ready to grow bugs in your garden?  Next time you find yourself fighting nature in your vegetable garden, shift your perspective and see if a solution doesn’t present itself.

Photos by (top to bottom) Sonja Langford on Unsplash, Sheryl Campbell, Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

Edible Flowers Revisited

Many flowers of summer have stopped blooming and you’re wondering how to keep edible flowers on your plate.  Take heart!  There’s a whole season of delicious blooms still ahead. 

 Blog19  Stuffed Daylilies

Many of your herbs will still be in flower for another month or so, as will squash, okra, nasturtium, and runner beans.  If you planted reblooming varieties then a whole new flush of daylily flowers are on their way as well.  The first three flowers below will bloom throughout late summer and early fall giving you ample opportunities to invent new dishes!  Reblooming daylilies will vary in bloom time from August-September.  Gladiolas bloom dependent on when you planted the bulbs – I try to stagger them so as to get blooms summer through fall.

Begonias-tuberous ONLY  Begonia x tuberhybrida

The petals have a lemony, citrus taste and a crisp texture.  We put them in salads, dip them in yogurt or citrus sauce, and chop them up in fruit salads.  CAUTION:  they contain oxalic acid so eat in moderation, and any varieties other than Tuberous Begonias are unsafe to eat. 

Chrysanthemums  Dendranthema x grandiflorum

These have a mild to strong, bitter taste so test yours first before using.  We have tossed them in salads and sprinkled them on soups.   Cautions: Pyrethrum, a plant based insecticide, is made from the dried flowers of Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium or Chrysanthemum coccineum so avoid those.

Dahlia Dahlia spp.

The sharp, spicy tang of dahlia petals enhances salads and sandwiches, while the substantial whole flowers can be used to float on beverages and to top cakes.

 Blog19  Daylily Quiche

Day Lilies  Hemerocallis fulva

The buds and flowers of day lilies vary in taste from sweetly floral, to beany, to slightly metallic depending on variety.  Test yours out but do find some to use - these are one of our favorite edible flowers for their taste, beauty and versatility.  Make them into a salad, stuff them with soft cheeses or ice cream, or chop them for salads.  The buds taste somewhat like a green bean can are wonderful sautéed or baked.  CAUTION:  Only day lilies are edible.

Gladiolus  Gladiolus spp.

We like their mild, lettuce-like taste and texture and use them as a salad base, or stuff them with soft cheeses or sorbet.  They make a delightful presentation.

 Blog19  plated reblooming edibles

Recipes for Late Summer and Autumn

Sage Tempura

• 6-8 inch lengths of sage (leaves and flowers on stem)
• Oil or lard

Make your favorite tempura batter, heat oil (peanut or palm) or lard in a deep fryer or deep pan, dip the sage stems in the batter and deep fry them in the oil.  Drain on paper towels and serve.  Detailed directions can be found in the Japanese Herb Tempura Recipe.

Anise Hyssop Beef Strips

• 1 pound flank steak, cut into strips across the grain
• 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1/2 cup anise hyssop flowers and leaves, chopped
• 3 Tablespoons scallions, chopped
• 1/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/4 cup chicken broth
• 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons cornstarch in 2 tsp. water
• More anise hyssop flowers for garnish

Combine the anise hyssop, soy sauce, brown sugar, and sherry.  Pour over the steak strips and marinate several hours.  Remove the meat from the sauce and reserve the remaining marinade.  In a large skillet, heat the oil and stir-fry the meat quickly over medium-high heat until brown.  Add the scallions, reserved marinade, and chicken broth and heat through.  Stir in the cornstarch mixture until the sauce thickens.  Serve over jasmine rice.  Garnish with anise hyssop flowers.

Daylily Frittata

• 6 fresh daylily blossoms
• 6 eggs
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• 6 fresh sweet basil leaves, chiffonade
• 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
• Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk the eggs with the cream, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the herbs.  Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat, then pour the egg mixture into the pan.  Gently press the daylily blossoms into the eggs creating a pleasing pattern.  Cook on medium until the egg just starts to set on the sides and bottom.  Put the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Cool for a few minutes, cut into wedges and serve.

Time to Plant the Winter Garden

Summer is moving past its peak and the summer garden is winding down.  The corn is harvested, late beans are coming in, and the last of the melons are waiting to be picked.  Many people are tired of planting, weeding, and harvesting by now and are ready to think of quitting the garden soon for the winter.  But not you!  That’s because you enjoy cool season vegetables and want to feed your family from your land for more months of the year.  You’ve kept your garden covered with plants, straw, or grass clippings eliminating much of your weeding.  And you’ve planned your garden spaces to allow for cold hardy vegetables to go in as soon as summer ones quit producing.  How you prepare for winter gardening is important, and which seeds you plant matters as well.  Freshen up beds with well-aged compost before putting in the cool season vegetables so that they have nutrients to draw from.

 Blog18  winter cabbages and lettuce

There are three ways of approaching cold season planting:  direct seeding, starting your own seedlings, or purchasing transplants.  The problem with buying your seedlings is that your choices are very limited.  So we’re going to limit today’s conversation to seeding directly in the soil and starting your own seedlings.  With both approaches you’ll be able to select exactly which varieties you want to grow.

 Blog18  seedlings

Certain vegetables simply grow better when sown directly where you want them rather than transplanting them.  Many greens and anything that matures in the soil fit this category.  So plan late summer/early fall spaces for winter radishes, beets, turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, lettuce, kale, spinach, mache, and tatsoi.  Hopefully you’ve set up a lighted growing area in your home by now and are ready to start your seeds indoors.  A sunny window can work as well, and it’s warm enough outside that you can start seed trays outside if you follow a few precautions.  You don’t want the temperature to drop below 60 so bring the trays in if the nighttime temps will be lower than that.  Seed starting trays are usually covered with transparent covers to retain moisture, but they’ll also bring the heat up drastically if left in bright sunshine.  So keep your outdoor starter trays in a lightly shaded, yet warm area.  I start mine on a large light table that my husband built in an unused alcove of our house.

 Blog18  August planting

You’ll want to start all cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower in seed trays.  These are large vegetables and the seedlings take up much more room than some of the root crops or smaller greens.  I like to wait to dedicate space to the winter crops until I must put them in the ground because this allows me more successions of the summer crops before cool weather.  Regardless, these larger vegetables do need to be transplanted by mid-August at the latest in our zone 6b garden or they may not come to maturity before an early killing frost.

 The varieties that work well for us to take harvest out into fall and winter are:

  • Arcadia broccoli which can take temperatures down to 25
  • Monflor broccoli is a 1-cut type that handles cold well
  • Purple of Sicily, and Song Cauliflower – harvest the heads before 30 degree weather
  • Rubicon Napa cabbage must be harvested before it is 25 degrees out
  • Deadon, Autumn Jewel, Brunswick, and Ruby Perfection cabbage can be harvested down to 19 degrees if it is only that cold for a few hours at a time. Very small heads survived multiple nights down to 15 degrees this past winter.
  • Turnips, rutabaga, winter radishes, and beets need to be harvested before a hard freeze of 20-24 degrees regardless of variety.
  • Beas kohlrabi can take temperatures down to 15 degrees if only for a short time
  • Rainbow Swiss Chard easily takes sustained temperatures down to 15 degrees
  • Red, and White, Russian Kale survive down to 10 degrees in our garden, as does any variety of spinach

 Blog18  kale

Lettuces at maturity die around 25 degrees, but seedlings under 6 inches do well down to 10-15 degrees.  The cold hardy varieties we plant for winter are Rouge Grenobloise, Winter Density, Marvel of Four Seasons, Landis Winter, Merlot, and Black-Seeded Simpson.  We plant lettuce directly in place late August through mid-September to be harvested before Christmas.  In October we start planting lettuce that we hope will overwinter at a small size to grow quickly in March.  When the winter is warmer than usual, we harvest them in January instead.  This past year we began winter-sowing lettuces in late-December as well for an early spring harvest.  The seeds just sit there until weather conditions warm the soil to 35 degrees for them to germinate.

 Blog18  merlot lettuce

If you grow your own onions and garlic these are excellent choices for the winter garden.  We start our onions inside from seed and plant them out in early October with straw packed tightly round the seedlings.  We’ve overwintered Walla Walla, Candy, and Expression onions this way for an extra early summer harvest of large bulbs.  Garlic bulbs should be planted around the end of October or early November in our zone.  We plant them so the tips of the bulbs are 3 inches below the soil then cover them with 6 inches of fluffed straw.  When the spring temperatures warm, the garlic plants push their way through the straw to grow tall and well supported.

 If you haven’t planned for a winter garden this year it’s not too late.  Order some cold hardy varieties of your favorite cool season vegetables.  Whenever you pull a summer crop, replace it with seeds or seedlings for fall and winter plants.  Even if you aren’t set up to start your own seedlings, you can experiment with whatever seedlings you can find at nurseries this fall.  Just remember to surround your growing seedlings with straw as the weather turns colder.  This will keep the soil at their roots warmer and help them survive colder temperatures than you’d thought possible.

 Let me know how your fall and winter garden grows!

An Abundance of Cherry Tomatoes


 Blog17  truss of tomatoes

Its late summer and tomatoes fill the kitchen.  Every morning we bring in another 1/2 bushel of large varieties and a large bucket of cherry and grape tomatoes.  We started growing the small varieties because they are our favorite summer snack.  A crystal bowl filled with mixed gem colored tiny tomatoes sits permanently on our table throughout the season. 

It is easy to think of ways to preserve the larger tomatoes.  Jars of tomato basil soup, spaghetti sauce, bruschetta, salsas, diced tomatoes, and tomato jam all line my canning room shelves.  Dried and powdered paste tomatoes wait quietly to be rehydrated into sauce and soups.

But what can you do with so many small tomatoes once you’ve snacked on all you can eat?  Our answer involves two recipes that bring summer bursting forth in the kitchen in the dead of winter.  We roast huge amounts of the cherry tomatoes, freeze them, and then incorporate them into Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Goat Cheese for a quick winter meal with warm crusty bread. 

Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Blog17  roasted tomatoes

  • Cherry, or grape, tomatoes: halved
  • Kosher salt
  • Olive oil

On a parchment lined baking sheet, place tomato halves cut side up so they just touch each other.  Fill the sheet completely full.  Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with kosher salt.  Bake at 250 degrees for two hours.  Store in airtight bags or tubs and place in freezer until needed.  We store them in 2-cup portions.

Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

Blog17  penne with tomatoes

  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 3 quarts water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6-8 ounces herbed goat cheese
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 cups roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid
  • 1 tsp. good olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot bring the water, broth, and salt to a boil.  Cook the pasta in the liquid and then reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid.  Then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.  Add reserved liquid, goat cheese, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Toss well and serve immediately.

By saving summer cherry tomatoes this way, and growing a pot of basil in a sunny window in the house, you can surprise your family with the taste summer whenever you wish.  There are other ways to use those roasted cherry tomatoes as well, so don’t limit your little gems to summertime.

  • To top pizzas
  • In grilled cheese or tuna sandwiches
  • On toasties with cream cheese
  • In omelets and frittatas
  • In risotto
  • With bread salad

Dehydrating excess cherry tomatoes is another way to preserve them.  Cut them in half and place in your dehydrator at 135 degrees.  Run the machine for 8-10 hours until the tomatoes are dry yet pliable.  Keep them in a freezer safe bag for wonderful wintertime snacks.  They are also delicious tossed with pastas and cream sauce, thrown into soups and stews for bursts of flavor, or added to sandwiches for a tasty crunch.

 Blog17  sungold tomatoes

So go ahead and plant those cherry tomato plants with abandon!  Plant 5, or 10, or 20.  You’ll know what to do with all the excess.  You’ll be oven roasting and dehydrating this summer and you’ll be enjoying your own little tomatoes right up until next year’s harvest.  We plant multiples of Cherry Roma, Sugar Cherry, Green Doctors, Black Cherry, Napa Chardonnay, Sunrise Bumblebee, and Sungold cherry tomatoes.  These create colorful dried tomatoes to enjoy later in the year, and they are some of the best tasting ones we’ve found for fresh snacking.  What will you plant this year?

Tantalizing Tomatoes

I have a confession to make.  I’m an unrepentant addict.  My addiction is tomatoes:  little ones, big ones, ugly ones, pretty ones, red, yellow, green, or pink.  I’m rather indiscriminate, except when it comes to taste.  And I don’t think I’m alone.  Admit it!  Aren’t tomatoes the main reason you garden?  Beginning in very late June, right up through October, I can be found in the garden with tomato juice dripping down my chin. 

 Blog16  heirloom tomatoes

After that the tomatoes we’ve “put up” continue to feed my cravings for many months.  Jar after jar of tomato basil soup, colorful diced tomatoes, and spaghetti sauce line my canning room shelves.  Sealed tubs of dehydrated tomato slices line the counter, and packets of roasted cherry tomatoes fill the freezer.  Jars of spicy tomato jam and peach/tomato/pepper salsa wait patiently to perk up our winter meals.

I regularly grow 25-30 tomato plants a year for our family of three which may seem excessive until you know that we all happily eat tomatoes all day long.  A big bowl of mixed cherry tomatoes shines like jewels on our table throughout the summer and is always empty by evening.  I’m never done trying new tomato recipes for dinner.  New tomatoes always sneak into my seed orders and get planted out in the garden.

cherry tomatoes 1

So how do I choose which tomatoes to plant?  Descriptions in catalogs are hard to judge by.  They can’t all be the “largest, juiciest, best tasting, most popular” tomatoes on the planet.  You need to identify what is most important for you and your garden.  Then you need to try lots of tomatoes!  In the early days of our garden we went to harvest festivals and tomato tastings to try lots of varieties.  I read voraciously in books like Amy Goldman’s Heirloom Tomatoes, and Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier.  Since then we just keep trying tomatoes that are new to us while hanging on to the ones we know we love. 

The things we’ve decided are important to our family include:

  • Taste, taste, taste! We like most of our tomatoes to strike a balance of sweetness and acidity, and to have complex flavor profiles.  We love the smokiness of black tomatoes, and the surprise of citrus undertones in some of the bi-color or yellow tomatoes.
  • A variety of colors and flavors in small cherry and grape tomatoes to keep that bowl on the table full each day
  • A steady variety of tomatoes ripening together so that our tomato basil soup is a complex and tasteful work of art impossible to duplicate from batch to batch.
  • Early tomatoes to get a jump on the season along with ones that take a little longer to start production but weather the period from late summer into fall more reliably.
  • And, with one notable exception, open pollinated tomatoes from which we can save our own seed and develop lines that thrive in our particular garden.

multicolored tomatoes

I used to make and can tomato sauce, which effected which types of tomatoes I grew.  But I’ve since started dehydrating tomato slices in large quantities, which expands the tomato varieties you can then turn back into sauce with a little water and an immersion wand.  Because of this only a few of the tomato plants I grow each year are actually paste or sauce types anymore.

  • Amish Paste is a large, meaty, full flavored tomato good for sauce or paste.
  • Opalka is rich flavored, sweet and slightly smoky, great for roasting or sauces
  • Cour di Bui, with its true tomato taste, is a meaty pink tomato great for dehydrating

Salad tomatoes are small at 2-4 ounces and tend to produce early giving me that first “fix” of the season eaten out of hand or on salads.  Our two favorite are:

  • Juane Flamme, a beautiful orange jewel that is sweet and fruity
  • Green Zebra which is sweet yet zingy with green-on-green stripes

Our favorite early season tomatoes include:

  • Cherokee Chocolate which is a more stable selection of Cherokee Purple
  • Pink Berkeley Tie Dye’s taste is superb and it’s the tomato that caused my addiction!
  • Rebekah Allen has a nice sweet/tart balance and is our earliest producer.

My huge beefsteak tomatoes are in full swing by mid-summer, cranking out an abundance of color and flavor that combine into the most interesting meals imaginable.  African Queen and Red Rose are our red/pink giants, Carbon’s deep flavor beats the socks off of many other black tomatoes, and Hawaiian Pineapple has a fruity citrus flavor that is amazing.  Green Giant was a new find last year and has converted me back to at least this one green beefsteak.  And after almost giving up on Lillian’s Yellow to come into production it proved well worth the wait with the best flavor of any pure yellow we’ve ever tried.  We even had to put away the touch of salt on these last two beauties as it masked their natural flavor too much when eaten fresh.

cherry tomatoes 3

And what about the bowl of tomato gems that grace the table?  After years of trial and error, we’ve narrowed the selection down to Cherry Roma, Sugar Cherry, Black Cherry, Napa Chardonnay, Sunrise Bumblebee, and Sungold (the only hybrid tomato we grow).  Why a hybrid?  Sungold quite simply has the brightest and most interesting flavor profile of any cherry tomato we’ve ever tried.  There are many open pollinated selections of this tomato, but we’ve found them to be either inconsistent, unstable, or just not up to the original in flavor.

What tomatoes are making your list of favorites?  Why do you like them, and how do you use them?

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