Paste tomatoes are the bane of the gardener/canner’s existence, I’m feeling more and more. They taste bad, they’re prone to blossom-end rot, and they take forever to ripen. I’ve tried a number of varieties, always seeking that nirvana of good flavor and robust health, but every one seems to have its significant downside. Every year I end up supplementing my significant acreage (ok, one super long row) with purchased plum tomatoes.
Plums are gorgeous and long-lived when they’re grown properly, especially the new striped and black hybrids, but the taste doesn’t advance beyond mediocre. Although I strongly disapprove of adding bottled lemon juice when processing tomatoes, I kind of think it doesn’t matter when you’re using plums, since there’s no flavor to begin with. Regular ‘Roma’ tomatoes are useless, and ‘San Marzanos’ are particularly awful here in the Willamette Valley. People insist on buying them, since they are the Italian variety everyone knows as quality, but they just taste like cardboard in and out of the jar.
So what’s a local girl to do? Keep searching for better varieties for our region. I grew ‘Saucey’ for several years. In 2014 my biggest success is a grafted plant of ‘Jersey Devil,’ which may be a new offering from Log House this year. They have a very pleasant little tail at the end and turn bright red, just like Satan. They didn’t crap out like my highly anticipated ‘Orange’ and ‘Black Icicles’.
But paste tomatoes, in my opinion, are better than plums, but still prone to diva behavior. They’re the ones that are not necessarily elongated and hollow/seedy in the middle, but may be more heart-shaped and solid flesh with very few seeds. They will be a bit more liquidy at first than plums, but cook down nicely and produce a much more flavorful sauce. I’ve posted many times about ‘Amish Paste,’ so I won’t go into it here, but the 1-pound tomatoes I get from the good strain of this plant (i.e., not the small tomato strain), are excellent. Farmer Anthony Boutard recommended it to me several years ago, and he’s since moved on to his own ‘Astiana’ line plucked from a market in the Piedmont region of Italy. I’ve yet to haul my preoccupied behind up to Hillsdale to get in on some of that ‘Astiana’ action.
Heart-shaped, solid tomatoes are also good for sauce. One possibility for me this year might be these ‘Reif Red Hearts’, spotted last weekend next to the ‘Ananas Noires’. They look quite promising indeed as a sauce tomato, from what I’ve read on the internets.
As for local plums, and there are better varieties than ‘San Marzano,’ like ‘Scipio’, which was good last year from Sweetwater Farm, and these fat and gorgeous ‘Opalka’ plums from Mountain View Farm in Junction City.
Another possibility to consider are the good ol’ round canning tomatoes, like the all-purpose Moskovich, again from Ruby and Amber’s stand at the market.