Szerlag: Taste buds ready for summer tomatoes
I’m really fired up about planting next year’s garden, and I have yet to receive most of my seed catalogs. Even though my planting space is now limited to a few large containers, I love looking for “new to me” varieties of tomatoes, lettuces and other good stuff I may get a chance to grow some day. Who knows, if Michelle Obama was able to get a vegetable garden going at the White House, condos and co-ops may one day make space available too. Hope springs eternal.
What has gotten my tomato juices bubbling is the Nature and Nurture Seeds catalog (natureandnurtureseeds.com; (734) 929-0802 from Erica Kempter and Mike Levine, based in Dexter, Michigan. Fifty percent of their seed is grown in southwest Michigan, which means the plants have adapted well to the Great Lakes region and all of their varieties are trialed and evaluated for vigor, yield and most important to me, taste.
One of the things I love about starting tomatoes from seed is the ability to grow plants with history. I want to know the story behind the fruit – where it came from and why it’s still available.
What first caught my eye when thumbing through the 2017 NNS catalog was the Sheboygan tomato. I knew it has been grown as a paste tomato in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, by Lithuanian immigrants since the early 1900s, and is treasured for taste as well as yield, because I was told the story when I bought the seeds at the Chelsea Flower Show in England in 2015. What I learned from NNS is that the medium-sized, 6-ounce fruit has a complex flavor that also makes good eating when used fresh.
I’m a huge fan of the heirloom Evergreen tomato, so NNS’s Tasty Evergreen, introduced in northwest Ohio by the well-respected seed house Gecklers in 1958 is also on my must-try list.
The Wisconsin 55, a mid-sized slicer bred by renowned plant pathologist John Charles Walker of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1947 for disease resistance of early blight and cracking, as well as exceptional flavor, is highly recommended as a “workhorse” tomato that produces from mid-season to frost.
Recommended by Mike Levine for its fabulous flavor, the Early Detroit tomato was released in 1909 by the D.M. Ferry seed company, then located in Greektown. It was popular with Detroit gardeners in the ’50s and ’60s. I think it’s time to bring it back, so it, too, is on my list.
Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.