In search of the holy grail of the vegetable garden

Erin Schanen


Tomatoes are such teases. Mine have been filling up the vines with increasingly large green globe fruits, promising that a good harvest is in the cards. But I’ve been staring at those same fruit, willing them to show even the slightest blush, for weeks now.

Although I grow all kinds of vegetables and herbs, they all play second fiddle to the almighty tomato. A perfect tomato is the holy grail of vegetable gardening.

The tomato I imagine in my dreams is a comfortable handful with dark red skin tending toward brown. When you slice it, still warm from the sun, there’s a good ratio of flesh to seeds and the taste is sweet but not sugary, with the right hit of acid. It is, in one heavenly bite, the world’s most perfect flavor.

Such tomatoes are few and far between, but I’ve come closest to meeting this ideal in Brandywine and Cherokee Purple varieties, both of which have proven to be frustratingly low producers in my garden to the point where I’m not growing either of them this year.

My hopes lie in a dwarf tomato I’m growing called BrandyFred, a product of the Dwarf Tomato Project championed by Craig LeHoullier, author of the book “Epic Tomatoes.” The project seeks to create new dwarf varieties by crossing dwarfs, which have traditional-size fruit on smaller plants, with heirloom varieties. I’m hoping that the Brandywine heritage in BrandyFred might produce a tomato that tastes a little bit like the one I’m imagining.

I am not alone in my quest for the perfect homegrown tomato, but it has come to my attention that some people don’t like tomatoes. In fact, I know a gardener who doesn’t like raw tomatoes. What is the holy grail for a gardener who doesn’t like tomatoes? I can’t even fathom.

This tomato-dislike condition is so out of the ordinary in gardening circles that it led to an uncomfortable moment for my gardening friend at an event for garden writers last year. The host of the event was proudly introducing two new cherry tomato varieties, both of which had been through years of trialing and taste testing. Attendees were asked to do a blind taste test of the two varieties and choose their favorite. My friend was put on the spot and, out of a sense of obligation to hosts who had spent hours giving us tours, lunch and plants, she popped one in her mouth.

“That wasn’t terrible,” she said when prompted to share her opinion. The crestfallen look on the face of one of the breeders proved that he had no idea his tomato was actually receiving high praise.

Of course no cherry tomato can ever top a large tomato when it comes to flavor. They exist solely to tide us over during the days spent waiting for the real tomatoes to ripen. And when they do, the search for the holy grail tomato will continue.

If I find that perfect tomato, I know exactly what I’ll do with it. I’ll allow it to fulfill its highest and best purpose on this Earth in the middle of a BLT.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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