What tomato varieties are the best?

Without a doubt, the tomato really is the most versatile plant in our garden – finding its way on to the dinner table all throughout the year in some way, shape or form.

tomato varieties
Heirloom tomatoes straight from the garden

It all starts each summer when the first few ripening fruits are plucked straight from the vine and devoured immediately in the garden – a tradition that occurs every year as those long Ohio winters and the wait for fresh tomatoes collide in an unrivaled bout of impatience! 🙂

Once that craving is satisfied – the tomatoes begin to find their way in to everything from fresh green salads, cucumber tomato and onions, penne pasta dishes, Margherita pizza, tomato soup, home-made salsa, ketchup, pasta sauce, tomato juice, pizza sauce , barbecue sauce, picante salsa and more. You get the point, right?  The tomato rules!

And although all of the above are made from tomatoes – they are certainly not made from multiple tomato varieties. In fact, our garden and landscape are comprised of no less than 10 to 12 varieties every year – each of which serve at least one or two purposes in the kitchen. So that leads to the question – which ones are the best to grow?

Canned Tomato Juice
Canned Tomato Juice

Although there are hundreds if not thousands of varieties, the real key in choosing the right tomato for your garden is to know what you want from them come harvest time. Certain tomato types lend themselves better for juices, others for salsa and sauces, while still others are prized for their taste. Of course, the old rule of thumb applies here as always – grow what you love to eat!

Here are our favorite tomato varieties for Eating, Cooking and Canning:

Eating Fresh

Black cherry tomatoes are the perfect salad tomato and full of flavor
Black cherry tomatoes are the perfect salad tomato and full of flavor

So, if you simply love to eat tomatoes straight from the vine, or love them in fresh salads or on top of your hamburgers and sandwiches – here are some great varieties to try:

Black Cherry :  If you like cherry tomatoes – then you will LOVE this heirloom variety.  They produce tons of small round black and reddish fruit that are perfect for salads, salsa – or just eating one after another!  They have a super-sweet rich flavor that can’t even be compared to those bright red cherry tomatoes you find in the plastic boxes at the grocery store. They are a prolific producer – and keep on growing and producing until frost.

Brandywine: This is a favorite among so many gardeners – and for great reason – the flavor is amazing and they make a great slicing tomato!

It is probably the most widely known and grown variety of heirloom tomatoes. They grow very large and dense, and can also be used for canning great pasta sauce.

Cherokee Purple:  This is my personal favorite. It produces large, beefy tomatoes that have a dark deep red to purplish hue. When sliced open – they are meaty and make a mean tomato sandwich – but they also lend themselves perfectly for juice and pasta sauce – and they give beautiful color and taste to fresh or canned salsa.

Tomatoes For Cooking

When it comes to cooking with tomatoes, we look for tomatoes with great flavor and that are heavy-walled, and stand up to temps in the oven or on the stove top.

A ripe Ace 55 tomato waiting to be picked and enjoyed
A ripe Ace 55 tomato waiting to be picked and enjoyed

Ace 55: The Ace 55 produces  a heavy load of tennis-ball sized red, thick-walled tomatoes.  They are prefect for standing up to heat – and are a great tomato to use on the grill or on kabobs. They also make an excellent fresh sauce and are a big winner when it comes to those who like fried green tomatoes!  They are a lower acid tomato – so not the best choice for when it comes to canning.

Red Pearl Grape (Cherry) Tomato :  Much like the black cherry tomato above – these little cherry-style tomatoes are perfect for snacking on and for cooking in pasta dishes. Each plant produces hundreds of smaller tomatoes that are perfect for slicing in half and adding to sausage and penne or linguine dishes.  They hold up perfectly in the heat and stay firm.

Creamy tomato soup made from Valencia tomatoes
Creamy tomato soup made from Valencia tomatoes

Valencia Orange Tomato:  A fantastic producer in our garden last year – the Valencia Orange tomato produces loads of perfectly shaped tennis ball-sized orange tomatoes. Not only does this make the perfect tomato to use fresh in salads and salsa – but it cooks down perfectly to make fresh, super-sweet stove top pasta sauces.  We have also found it to be THE best tomato to make fresh tomato soup with – it simply has out of this world flavor!  It’s low acidity level is also a pleasant surprise for many, although it doesn’t lend itself well for any canning applications.

Tomatoes For Canning

Freshly canned salsa
Freshly canned salsa

When it comes to canning, you really want plants that have great flavor, are heavy producers  – and have higher acidity levels for safe canning.  These are all big winners when it comes to that!

In addition to the 4 varieties listed below – the Purple Cherokee and Brandywine listed above are also star performers in this category as well. They are simply perfect for adding great flavor to canned juice and sauces.

Amish Paste :  This is the heirloom variety of what most know as a “Roma” style of tomato.  Thick walled and great for making sauces and ketchup – this is a perfect tomato for canners!  They are also great for salads because they stay nice and firm when sliced.

A big bowl of Roma's waiting to be made into picante salsa
A big bowl of Roma’s  and Amish Paste tomatoes waiting to be made into picante salsa

Roma :   Roma tomatoes – the other cannign workhorse variety we plant each year. The Roma’s meaty substance makes it a great choice when it comes to thickening up our pasta and pizza sauce.

Black Krim :  Another “Out of this World” tasting tomato.  Just like the name implies – it becomes a dark blackish-purple when ripe.  It originates from Russia, and has really become a favorite among heirloom tomato lovers. A word of caution – be prepared to support this one – it grows large and will take up some space!

Marglobe Supreme:  This is a high acid tomato, and a big producer of tennis to baseball size tomatoes that are the perfect addition to the garden for a canning tomato.  They are also well-known for making excellent juice!

For More Tomato Info See:

How to stake and cage your tomatoes on the cheap!

How to grow amazing tomatoes this year!

Growing heirloom tomatoes – experience real flavor

Happy Canning, Cooking and Eating! – Jim and Mary

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Tomatoes! The Best Tomato Varieties To Grow For Eating, Cooking and Canning