Taste-testing veggies at Stokes

Kat Fox

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Walking through the masses of tomatoes in Stokes Seeds' trial gardens.

Last week, I visited Stokes Seeds’ trial gardens in St. Catharines, Ont., where I ate veggies, learned about a new way to grow tomatoes, and then ate more veggies.

Walking through the masses of tomatoes in Stokes Seeds' trial gardens.
Walking through the masses of tomatoes in Stokes Seeds’ trial gardens.

I’m convinced that a tomato eaten while standing in the garden right after it has been picked is far more delicious than a tomato eaten in the kitchen just a few feet away. Along with other gardeners who had made the trip, I walked and ate my way through the expansive trial gardens, comparing tastes and textures of tomatoes and peppers. (I couldn’t bring myself to bite into a raw eggplant.)

Gardeners love to share their opinions, but one opinion that I did not share with the crowd is that until a year or two ago, I hated tomatoes. My whole life, I have picked tomatoes out of salads, steered clear of any sauces that had non-liquified tomatoes and asked for no tomato on my sandwiches.

This has gradually changed, and basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar may be to thank for that. With a new, palatable way to eat tomatoes in my life, I have recently made an exciting discovery: I’m a sucker for sweet yellow tomatoes. There were a few yellow tomatoes to try at the trial gardens, and the ‘Golden Honey Bunch’ grape tomato was my favourite. It was sweet and juicy, with just enough bite. I popped several in my mouth, something I would never have been able to do a few years ago.

When discussing which tomatoes end up in grocery stores, it was interesting to learn that my favourite may not be up to par, because its skin tends to split more than that of other varieties. When selecting which tomatoes will end up in stores, it doesn’t all come down to flavour. The length of time a tomato can go from being picked to being eaten without bruising, plus its size and any imperfections in its appearance, are all factors.

Rows and rows of peppers, ready for picking.
Rows and rows of peppers, ready for picking.

For example, some tomatoes have a “nipple gene” which causes a little bump on its skin opposite its stem. It doesn’t affect taste, but those tomatoes often aren’t sold in stores because shoppers would rather select unblemished tomatoes. This is all the more reason to grow tomatoes at home, because you can grow and eat tomatoes purely for their taste, and not worry about transportation or colouring.

This explains why you rarely see heritage or heirloom tomatoes in grocery stores — they often don’t have a very long shelf life, and wouldn’t survive the trip. They will, however, survive the trip from your garden to your kitchen.

I’ve had some success growing a grape variety in a container, which I believe proves that tomatoes are not difficult to grow. Maybe next year I’ll try one of the bigger heirloom types. Garden Making has published several good articles on growing tomatoes, and Judith Adam has tips on harvesting late-season tomatoes in her blog, “Making a Garden.” As I learn from more experienced gardeners and do as they recommend, I’ll be rewarded with tastier tomatoes than those I find in my grocery store.

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