As I mentioned on the show, every year I taste tomatoes, especially ones I've never seen, and I keep a diary. That way, the following year I'll know what to plant or to look for at the market.
Below are my favorite finds for 2011. You have to know these aren't anywhere near run of the mill, which was why I try a lot tomatoes in the first place. Of course that has led to some bad experiences, but these three fruits, each in their own way, practically knocked my socks off.
One caveat: A tomato's taste changes with soil, growing methods, location and weather. And we are human, so what tastes great to me might be boring to you.
(These tomatoes came from the Saint Paul Farmers Market, specifically the stand of Dorothy Stainbrook of Heath Glen's Farm.)
1. Vorlon (find it at rareseeds.com): is one of the so-called black or purple tomatoes from Eastern Europe, in this case Bulgaria.
Taste it and forget about dainty Brandywines and boring Romas. This is the James Franco of tomatoes -- masculine but with finesse so rich and intriguing you'll want to build a long, leisurely dinner around it.
2. Cosmonaut Volkov (rareseeds.com) is a big bruiser of a beefsteak tomato from Russia. Bright red, running up to two pounds, its flavors dive deep into the rich territory of the Vorlon tomato. Think a thick grilled steak and big zinfandel.
When a tomato reminds you of lucious meat and red wine, hear sauce recipes calling. I know everyone says use Romas and such, but great sauces need tomatoes with audacity and boldness like the Cosmonaut, not vapid wimps like the Roma.
This unusual name is from the retired space engineer, Igor Mikhailovich Maslov. He developed the tomato to honor his friend, Cosmonaut Vladislav Volkov, a Russian cosmonaut who died in the accident of spaceship Soyuz 11.
3. Bloody Butcher (rareseeds.com) is an old American heirloom. You have to love the name, but you might like the flavors even more. Though they're not very large, Bloody Butchers can have hits big sweet/tart tastes with this faint sense that somebody sprinkled them with cinnamon and allspice. Made for BLTs, and just about everything else.
You'd think Bloody Butcher would have a great story behind it but we struck out finding one.
Do some tasting of your own and remember, tomatoes freeze brilliantly.
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