Tale of a Tomato Taste Test

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I became a Master Gardener in 2013, and through the program I’ve learned all kinds of information about soils, plant propagation, pests, and diseases, to name just a few. Each monthly meeting usually consists of a speaker, a garden tour, or hands-on training, plus — most importantly — a pot-luck lunch. The information is good, but just like gardening itself, the sharing and fellowship with others is the best part. That’s why, for our July meeting, I thought it would be great fun to bring everyone together to participate in a good old-fashioned tomato taste test — you know, the county fair kind with tomatoes of all different shapes, colors, and sizes. So I set out to see how many different tomatoes I could get my hands on, so I could share them with my fellow Master Gardeners.

When you work for Bonnie, as I do, sharing fresh veggies and herbs is naturally part of the job description. Each person on our team has a personal garden in which we grow our favorite varieties, test new varieties that Bonnie is considering, and even nurture varieties for photography purposes. Sometimes, though, we have the opportunity to get our hands on bigger quantities of the best-tasting fruit you’ve ever had, right out of our Union Springs trial garden… and this year I hit the mother load!

Thanks to Macky, our Bonnie Trial Garden Manager, and some fellow Master Gardeners, we ended up with 16 different tomato varieties, with a mixture of heirlooms and hybrids. Some were grown organically, and even one type grown hydroponically. We cut the tomatoes into slices and put them on individual plates, with the name of the variety written on the edge of the plate. Then, 29 tomato-loving Master Gardeners took their time tasting each one and discussing the nuances, textures, and flavor profiles for each variety. I must say, this was my favorite part! Of course, getting to eat all of those delicious tomatoes was great, but seeing the fellowship and discussion that surrounded the whole event was even better.

“This one’s so sweet!” “Mmm, that one tastes rich, not very acidy.” “Thick and meaty, just like I like ‘em!” It was so fun to just sit back and listen to the small talk. It was a lot like a big family dinner, which for me was the icing on the cake — or the salt on the tomato, so to speak.

And somehow, the great scientific approach I had envisioned for finding the best tomato vanished, and it became more about refilling plates and doing some of my own sampling. In the end, we threw away any thought of special criteria in favor of simply having everyone write his or her favorite variety on an index card. The winning varieties would be the ones with the most votes.

When it was all said and done, we had three clear winners, all widely lauded for their flavor and texture. They were, in no particular order:

  • Cherokee Carbon*, a purple beefsteak related to the renowned heirloom Cherokee Purple
  • Bonnie Original, a medium red slicing tomato developed especially for Bonnie Plants
  • Mountain Pride, a medium-sized red hybrid tomato
Tomato Taste Test: Rugged Boy close-up
Rugged Boy, a new-to-Bonnie variety (with great disease resistance!) that we'll be selling in 2016, was a strong contender.
Tomato Taste Test: group of Master Gardeners
Nearly 30 Master Gardeners showed up to help identify the tastiest 'mater.

(As a side note, the new tomato that’s getting all the likes and buzz around our home office in Union Springs is Chocolate Sprinkles tomato, a “black” hybrid cherry tomato with really exceptional flavor.)

So what did I learn from this great taste-testing experiment? First, that all it takes is a good group of folks who are passionate about gardening and love to eat tomatoes, a few varieties to slice up, and some good conversation. And second, that heirlooms don’t corner the market on flavor (despite the widespread belief that they do) — all three of our winners are hybrids.

Oh, and one more thing: Next time, we need to bring some bacon!

* This isn’t currently being sold by Bonnie, though it’s among the varieties we’ve grown in our trial garden.


Article written by Byron Ford, Web Producer for Bonnie Plants.