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Stop Me Before I Plant Again

I have GOT to stop going to the farmer’s market. There are too many heirloom tomato plants.

Today I wound up with a Cherokee Purple (a legendarily delicious tomato!) and a thing called Black Elephant. “It’s ugly,” the nice young woman selling them said. “It’s like the Elephant Man of tomatoes,” said the nice young man with her.

“That’s fine,” I said. “My tomatoes are always ugly anyway, so now there’s an excuse.”

Really, though, how can I possibly resist a legendarily ugly tomato? It’s early, it’s delicious, it’s huge, and apparently it is hideous and cracked and lumpy and warped, even for an heirloom tomato, which are frequently a somewhat mutant breed. Being me, how could I not bring home and love the world’s ugliest tomato?

Unfortunately, this also leaves our tomato total at one Cherokee Purple, one Homestead, one Black Elephant and three Pink Brandywines.


“But Ursula,” you say, “last year you had ONE Black Prince and ONE Pink Brandywine, and you were overwhelmed with tomatoes. You couldn’t keep up.”

To which I say “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” and also that Kevin has vowed up and down to eat a tomato a day for lunch if that’s what it takes, since he totally instigated. I would have stopped at four, but he insisted on the Cherokee Purple, and they were next to the Black Elephant, which, as we have established, I could not hope to resist. We will have capreze until the end of the world.

He has also promised to learn to make tomato sauce and freeze it, which would be awesome if any of these were actually sauce tomatoes, but they’re actually all slicers. So, um. Salsa? Can you make salsa with a slicing tomato? Does salsa freeze well?

Anyway, Cherokee Purple are notoriously wimpy tomatoes, so it may die outright, and the Black Elephant is not all that productive (you can only produce so many gigantic fruits) and it’ll probably be a hot summer which slows down fruit set and oh god I’m gonna die in a hail of uneaten tomatoes.

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.


Ooh, the Black Elephant sounds fascinating. If it's successful, could you save me a few seeds?

Well, I've never saved tomato seeds before, but I'll give it a try if it comes out!

Ah, tomato seeds are a little tricky to save, because you have to let the gooey bit rot. If it comes to seed saving, let me know, and I'll walk you through it.

And FWIW, you can make really good salsa and can it. I don't know about freezing it--I think it would screw up the texture. But canning tomatoes isn't too difficult, especially with heirloom varieties that generally are more acidic. It becomes potentially fatal with modern hybrids that don't have enough acid for a water bath canning operation.

There will be pictures of this legendarily ugly tomato when your plant produces fruit, right?

Given that this is Ursula's life, I'd give decent odds to the supposedly-ugly tomatoes coming out as some kind of Platonic ideal. Because nothing works the way Ursula plans if there is some sort of deeply surreal alternative available to the universe.

I don't see why salsa can't freeze or be canned the same as sauce. I love to can, but it must be CAREFULLY scheduled.

It's fine, just make a million tomato sauces, home made ketchup, etc, and freeze it all.

Salsa can be jarred. We do it all the time.
Trick for the Cherokee Purple...feed it a can of beer a week. It will keep it healthy, at least it did for me.

Really! Wow, that's awesome!

AHAH! I HAVE A SOLUTION! **holds finger up in the approved position** Jar the buggers. No, seriously, and I don't mean make tomato-sauce, just jar 'em for using in stuff later on-- pasta sauces, stews, veggie things. Apparently you can do this with any tomato, though some are better than others; here's a decent site with info about jarring (some people call it canning, but I figure since you use a jar...) My grandmama used to jar peppers, tomatos, peas and corn; they were pretty damn good afterwards, too. Don't let the directions intimidate you, btw; it's much easier than it sounds, I've made preserves, pickles, jams and jellies all my life and it's all the same principle. Your largest outlay of expense is the big canning-pot, and I'll bet if you look around you can find one for around $20-$30 that'll last the rest of your life.

Edited at 2012-04-05 10:26 pm (UTC)

I had a harder time finding jars than my big pot (plus, when you see jars sell on farm auctions for a dollar a box, it's hard to pay over $7 a dozen!).
AND I picked up a pressure canner/cooker for half off at the end of the canning season.

If I ever need to pressure cook a whole ham, I'm good!

Cherokee Purples are amazing (at least in Atlanta's climate). Our other favorites are Orange Oxheart, Mortgage Lifter, and Juliet. Also the classic standby Marglobe, for giving-away tomatoes.

This year we're also trying a Black From Tula that I grew from seed. We grew Black Krim last year and it produced mealy, disease-pocked fruit.

Also we have one of those professional-grade vacuum sealers. We just wash and quarter tomatoes and freeze the fuckers and then use them in chili and soup. One year I'll have enough time and counter space for a canner; this is not the year.

Our county extension has a canning facility where you can actually bring your produce and pay nominal amounts to have it professionally canned. Have you looked for a program like that?

Not sure if salsa will freeze - salsa is generally not cooked, right? (mine is usually all fresh stuff, no cooking involved). But you could make things like gazpacho soup, ratatouille or simple pasta sauces (lightly cooking chopped toms with peppers/garlic/herbs etc) to freeze. The problem with freezing tomatoes, as with all fruits, is that the ice crystals break down the flesh and they become mushy - which is fine with cooked toms, but can be an issue with the expected texture of things that use uncooked toms.

Considering the previous post about the Big Sexy Macho Turkey and tom cats and so on, I keep getting the weirdest mental images when you talk about 'cooked toms'.....

YUM! Wish I lived closer! I'd be happy to take some extras off your hands... ^-^

I doubt this is good news, but your yield will probably drop a bit as the various tomato blights get a foothold in your garden.

You can always throw the tomatoes at people if you want! Or at rabbits. Or rabbit holes. Or send them to your fans. Autographed! O:D

I should point out that tomatoes are ridiculously easy to can - my mom gets about 50 pounds from the farmer's market every summer (the ugly rejected ones) and makes tomato sauce and salsa for the entire winter. Since tomatoes are so acidic, you don't have to worry about dangerous bacteria growing in the cans with them. All they really need is a hot water bath, and you're done!

Yeah, my boyfriend's mom cans tons of salsa every year. And slicers make fine sauce! You just need to add a bit of water, and not even very much.

I am reminded of the year a tomato plant sprouted all on its own and subsequently took over the front yard. My whole family picking as often as possible couldn't keep up with this plant's production, and we rapidly hit the point of friends pretending not to be home because they had long since hit tomato saturation. We were discussing leaving anonymous packages of tomatoes on neighbors' doorsteps when Mom resorted to posting a sign that said "help yourself", thinking of the people who often walked past. The day that the sign went out, the deer started eating the tomato vines. Their pruning brought the tomato monster under control at last.

What we never figured out is how the deer learned to read.