A guide to tomatoes: Picking the right type for your needs

Beefsteak tomatoes

Brandywine tomatoes

Yellow Pear tomatoes

Purple Cherokee tomatoes

Roma tomatoes

Tomato season is about to ripen up in mere days, meaning consumers will be facing endless tables of tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and — despite the traditional red — colors.

So what’s what? Here’s your guide to some of the most popular tomatoes grown locally in northeast Kansas.

And, by the way, if you see something you like, it’s not too late to transplant a plant from a local greenhouse and have a bounty of your own, says Tim Berendsen of Howard Pine’s Garden Center, 1320 N. Third St.

Early Girl: One of the quickest tomatoes around, Early Girl matures in just 52 days from transplanting, about a month quicker than beefsteak-type tomatoes. Market shoppers will see Early Girls both early and late in the season, but she’s most popular with home gardeners because less grow time means less time for something to go wrong.

“It’s a good, average tomato,” Berendsen says. “Doesn’t produce as much as some of the others, but it’s a pretty good, little tomato.”

Jet Star: This medium-sized tomato is the pick of Jane Wohletz, who runs the “Tomato Allie” stand at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market. She likes them for their size, production value and the fact that, well, they just taste good.

“We don’t grow the all the fancy heirlooms; we don’t grow the Romas. I just do the good-tasting slicer tomatoes — those are my favorite. I grow Jet Stars. To me, they’re just the ultimate tomato. When you bite into it, it’s just that taste of summer. Everybody says, ‘I just want a good-tasting tomato.’ To me, that’s a Jet Star.”

The downside? Jet Stars do have a white core that isn’t so popular with some folks, but Wohletz says she still has no trouble going through her 600 tomato plants.

Brandywine: A pink, beefsteak heirloom, most Brandywine tomatoes weigh 1 pound or more, taking 90 days from transplant to produce its fruit. It’s a good slicer tomato, says Berendsen.

“That’s probably the most popular heirloom tomato. It’s been around forever,” he says. “It’s a very interesting looking tomato, and it’s very tasty. It’s a large, purplish, very thick, very meaty tomato.”

Yellow Pear: An heirloom grape tomato, this little guy is an indeterminate plant that produces yellow 1-1/2-inch fruits 70 to 80 days from transplant. Very popular at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market, it makes a sweet and interesting-looking addition to a summer salad.

Purple Cherokee: Another heirloom, the Purple Cherokee has a purple-rose blush that is unique, despite the fact that the size and flavor are similar to that of Brandywine. Very sweet and productive, the Purple Cherokee, also known as Cherokee Purple, depending on who you ask, produces fruits 80 days from transplant.

Celebrity: This tomato ripens at the season’s peak, and, because of its determinate nature, tends to ripen its fruits all at once, making it perfect for canners.

“Probably the classic canner is Celebrity,” Berendsen says. “Celebrity is a determinate, so when someone’s going to can, they can get all their fruit out at one time and it makes it easier to can. It’s very disease-resistant. It’s similar to a Jet Star except it’s a determinate instead of an indeterminate.”

For those not in the know, many tomatoes are indeterminate, meaning they’ll grow and grow if you let them, but determinates have a predestined size, which also can affect when and how their fruits ripen.

Big Beef: Large, heavy and juicy, these tomatoes tend to show up later in the season (73 days from transplant) and make the perfect base for the classic tomato-basil-mozzarella caprese salad.

“They’re just nice, large, meaty tomatoes,” Berendsen says. “They tend to be fairly disease-resistant. They take longer to grow than the normal tomatoes, just because they need longer to develop on the vine.”

Roma: A determinate tomato, Romas are popular for making, and canning, sauces and pastes. So popular, in fact, are the medium-sized, oblong Romas that Wohletz says she’s toyed with the idea of making space for them in her sea of Jet Stars.

“People love those for canning because they don’t have all the juice, they’re meaty,” she says. “I sell a lot of canner tomatoes, and people are always requesting Popular at the Farmers’ Market. These heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate, heavy producers whose sprawling plants offer ripe fruits at 78 days. Perfect for adding a distinct look to a summer salad.

Sunsugar: Intensely sweet, these orange cherry tomatoes are heavy producers, going from transplant to salad in 62 days. Berendsen loves them and says to seek them out.

“Our favorite cherry tomato is the Sunsugar — it’s a yellow, golden orangish color. It’s the sweetest tomato you can get,” he says. “It’s a very heavy producer. They’re extremely disease-resistant. Just a really good overall tomato.”


Watermelon-Tomato Gazpacho

6 cups watermelon, roughly chopped

3 cups tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 shallot, peeled, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Put 5 1/2 cups of the watermelon, 2 1/2 cups of the tomatoes, shallots, oil, vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the cilantro, salt and pepper into a blender and purée until smooth. Transfer purée to a fine mesh strainer set over a large bowl and strain purée, pressing as much through as possible; discard solids. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.

Finely chop remaining 1/2 cup watermelon, 1/2 cup tomatoes and 2 tablespoons cilantro and toss together in a bowl. Pour chilled soup into bowls or glasses and top with watermelon-tomato mixture. Make sure to serve it well chilled. Serves 4.

— Recipe from www.melissas.com

Yellow Pear and Cherry Tomato Salad

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups yellow pear tomatoes, halved

1 1/2 cups orange cherry tomatoes, halved

1 1/2 cups red cherry tomatoes, halved

4 large fresh basil leaves, cut into slender ribbons

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl, combine the vinegar and shallot and let stand for 15 minutes. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk until well blended.

In a large serving or salad bowl, toss together all the tomatoes. Pour the vinaigrette over the tomatoes, add the basil shreds and toss gently to mix well and coat evenly. Serve immediately.

— Recipe from themayoclinic.com.

Baked Tomato Cups with Pine Nuts

2 large beefsteak tomatoes, sliced in half, seeded

Two packages (6 ounces) pine nuts

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated fine

16 drops Balsamic vinegar

Slice the tomatoes in half and seed them. Run the pine nuts and basil in a food processor just long enough to thoroughly blend into a rough chop. Stuff the tomatoes with the pine nuts and basil blend. Place in a shallow baking dish, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 4 drops of Balsamic vinegar to each tomato half. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Be careful not to overcook, as the tomato with collapse and lose its shape. Tomatoes are done when they begin to bubble but are still firm to the touch.

— Recipe from melissas.com.

Grape Tomato and Avocado Salad

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, or mixture of both

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 white onion, chopped

2 avocados, chopped

High quality sea salt, such as Fleur de Sal

In a non-reactive glass bowl toss together tomatoes, parsley, oil, lemon juice, and onions. Add avocados and salt and toss gently. Chill if not serving immediately.

— Recipe from Wholefoods.com.