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A black tomato is a member of a family of tomatoes that, as the name implies, is black in color. While they may look odd, the taste is exceptional. There are many varieties of black tomatoes, from cherry size to larger, slicing tomatoes.
The black tomato originated in Russia and slowly spread to other parts of the world. Originally, black tomatoes were available in only a few varieties, but as the intense taste became more popular, gardeners began to develop more varieties. Estimates are that there are at least 50 different varieties of black tomatoes available for consumers.
Someone interested in trying black tomatoes will probably not have much luck at their local grocery store. Many people find the appearance of black tomatoes shocking, and they have a shorter shelf life than the hybrid varieties specifically developed for mass transportation and grocery store display. Local farmer's markets may have vendors that sell black tomatoes, particularly markets that attract heirloom farmers.
Another way to try black tomatoes is to grow your own. Black tomato seeds are available through many mail order catalogs. Start the seeds inside approximately three months before the weather will be warm enough to transplant the tomatoes.
By growing your own black tomatoes, you can pick some of the most interesting varieties without worrying about what is available locally. While many newer varieties of black tomatoes exist, to understand the true flavor and appeal of a black tomato, choose one of the many heirloom varieties. The seeds of many of the heirloom black tomatoes trace back to Russia.
Black From Tula is a black beefsteak tomato with a sweet flavor. It produces large fruit. The Black Krim is an abundant producer with rich tomatoes that have a mildly salty flavor. The Black Pear tomato is, as the name implies, shaped like a small pear, and is excellent for eating on its own. The Cherokee Purple is an heirloom variety that originated in the United States, in Tennessee. It is sweet and very productive, although its thin skin means that it is best eaten right out of the garden.
Black heirloom tomatoes, like other heirloom varieties, are indeterminate tomatoes. This means that the tomatoes will continue to grow and produce fruit all summer. Most modern day tomato plants are determinate, which means they reach a certain size, set their fruit, and then their life cycle is complete. Determinate fruit are more compact and easily supported by tomato cages. Indeterminate varieties, such as the heirloom black tomatoes, grow better on a trellis, as they will quickly outgrow a tomato cage.
Black tomatoes are actually purple in color. I wouldn't describe their taste as intense. Brandywines are intense. Blacks are more nuanced and complex in flavor, with a hint of saltiness. Also, there are heirloom tomatoes that are determinates. I have grown Clear Pink Early and Healani, which are both determinate and open-pollinated heirlooms.
My family love to grow Cherokee Purple. They really are delicious and grow quickly, and are great in sauces and salsas. I love heirloom tomato varieties in particular because they have such a rich heritage and, to me, feel less manufactured than the varieties you could just buy at a grocery store.
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