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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Black Tomatoes - The Dark Side of the Garden

Tomato lovers are discovering a secret that heirloom gardeners have known for years. Black tomatoes are among the finest tasting tomatoes in the world. Typically, black tomatoes boast a complex flavor that blends smoky sweetness with mild tartness. Some describe it as intense, while others often call it earthy.

Like many other ‘black’ plants, black tomatoes are not truly black. The fruits that fall under the spectrum of black tomatoes encompass a range of color that includes hues from smoky red to deep burgundy to dusky brown to reddish-purple.

Believed to originate in the Southern Ukraine, black tomatoes first gained notice when they traveled back home with Russian soldiers returning from the Crimean War in the mid 19th century.

Over the years, as plant breeders and gardeners discovered the unique flavor of black tomatoes, new varieties began to spread throughout the Russian empire and into nearby Germany. Today, gardeners from all across the world can choose from among the dozens of types of heirloom black tomatoes listed in seed catalogues and websites.

Cherokee Purple (80 days) Often hailed as the best-tasting heirloom tomato, Cherokee Purple has a past steeped in American history. Unknown until the late twentieth century, the cultivar is said to have originated from the Cherokee nation in Tennessee.

The fruits of this heirloom treasure are large, beefy and absolutely sublime. They generally weigh in between 10 to 13 ounces. Their coloring is a handsome combination of burgundy and purple, and they are borne on densely foliaged vines. Use thick slices in sandwiches, salads or eat them sun warmed directly from the garden for a true treat.

Black Krim (75 days) Another must-have black tomato, Black Krim is also one of the most prolific, offering large harvests of deep maroon fruits with green shoulders. It originates from the Isle of Krim on the Black Sea and is one of the oldest varieties of black tomatoes.

The fruits grow about 3 to 4-inches wide and weigh approximately 10 to 12 ounces. The intense flavor hints of wine and salt and is ideal for salads, fresh eating or any number of cooked dishes.

Black Cherry (75 days) Dangling like purple-black jewels on their vigorous vines, Black Cherry heirloom tomatoes are produced in large clusters on tall indeterminate plants. Like most black tomatoes, the flavor is complex – rich, smoky, sweet, but slightly salty. The fruits resemble burgundy grapes and grow just an inch across, making them perfect for a quick snack when working in the garden.

Black from Tula (75 days) This large-fruited heirloom is quickly gaining ground on Black Krim in terms of popularity. With its 3 to 4-inch wide, slightly flattened, dark reddish-brown fruits, Black from Tula is a welcome addition to any tomato garden. The flavor is dark, rich, slightly salty, yet sweet and simply exceptional.

The strong, quick-growing vines are indeterminate and will yield a good supply of 8 to 12 ounce fruits over a long period of time. As with many black tomatoes, cracking can be a problem, so don’t overwater when the fruits are maturing.

Japanese Black Trifele (75 days) With its unique shape and deep color, Japanese Black Trifele (translated into truffle) is one of the more unusual black tomatoes available to gardeners. Considered to be the blackest of the black tomatoes, both the flesh and skin color are an attractive burgundy-black.

The crack-resistant fruits are about the size and shape of a small Bartlett pear, and are borne in heavy clusters all summer long. The flavor is rich and faintly smoky, while the texture is smooth and silky.

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