It is easy to ooh and ahh over colorful heirloom tomatoes and basil and unusually shaped eggplant in the winter, when I spent hours curled up on the couch with Johnny’s and Fedco. But the real test of a vegetable variety is whether it stands up to the rigors of summer. Is it delicious, beautiful, easy to grow? Does it do well under stress? Is it as productive as the seed catalogs brag? Do our CSA members rave about it?
I’ve decided to make a list of my top ten varieties from this summer. In order to get a place on this super-special list, each variety has to meet three criteria: it has to be beautiful, delicious, and prolific/vigorous/hardy. I.e. a rock star in the field! Some varieties that I’ve loved in the past did not make it onto the list – for whatever reason, they haven’t preformed well this season, or they’re not as tasty as I remember them. Like with many other things, I’ve been paying a lot closer attention to exactly what grows, and how, and how much, this season – and here are the results.
Sungold Cherry Tomato
It is not possible to make a favorites list without this on it. The most delicious farm treat you’ll ever eat. Prolific? Why, yes. We have more than we know what to do with!
I am in love with this tomato. Beautiful, smooth, smallish plum tomatoes, perfect for canning whole. In fact, juliets are the only tomato I will ever can, ever can, because they make putting up whole tomatoes a joy. They make delicious sauce. They dry like a miracle. Oh, and did I mention that they grow in clumps, like blueberries? I pull them off the plants in handfuls, handfuls.
Fedco describes glacier as “superior…to every other tomato in the same class that we’ve tried.” And I agree. A super early little red tomato, delicious (a full, light flavor…to me it seems that there are hints of basil in it…), beautiful, glossy and mostly blemish-free. It’s sort of like a very large cherry, oh-so-pop-in-your-mouth-able.
Taxi is another lovely early tomato…a gorgeous yellow with a blush of pink when ripe. I am a sucker for yellow tomatoes, and this one may be my favorite. Bright golden, a nice size to hold in your palm, an excellent slicer, with a tangy, slightly acidic flavor, not too sweet. Not only are they prolific (last week we harvested about 5 buckets from 30 feet or so), but they hold up beautifully once harvested – they’re firm, don’t bruise easily, and aren’t prone to cracking.
Flying Sauce Pattypan Squash
I adore pattypan squash. As far as beauty goes, flying saucer is the winner every time – how could you not love star-shaped squash with gorgeous patterns of yellow and green splashed all over them? They’re fantastic for grilling and roasting, and make beautiful star-burst like stuffed squash. And vigorous? Take a look at those plants!
Rattlesnake Pole Bean
I’ve never grown or eaten this bean before…I love it! Juicy and sweet, with a satisfying crunch, I believe the rattlesnake would climb up Mt. Washington (until it got too cold!) if we gave it poles tall enough. The plants seem to put out an endless amount of gorgeous, green and purple marbled beans…making new ones as fast as I can eat them!
Jalafuego Hot Pepper
A classic jalapeno-style hot pepper. Glossy dark green fruits that ripen to deep red…lots of them. The plants are loaded. I’ve never seen pepper plants so heavy with fruit. And these peppers are delightfully hot, even when green.
Jimmy Nardello Sweet Pepper
One of the sweetest red peppers out there, incredible for roasting. I’ve always loved the flavor, and their gorgeous, slender, curvy fruits. They’ve also been the first peppers to ripen in our field this year, and though, like all peppers, there’s some rot, we’ve gotten a whole lot of beautiful, whole, bright red ones.
I’ve always loved winterbor kale, but it’s never been my favorite kind – Red Russian and Toscano usually trump it. But this year, winterbor is the winner of the kale hardiness test. Since we started harvesting it in early June, till now, three hot, dry months later, it has stood up, strong, bright, tall, delicious. It keeps on producing when our other kales are withering and pouting, and it seems to be magically resistant to bugs, when our other kales are getting eaten alive. Plus, it looks like a forest of northern palm trees. What more could you ask for it a tasty bitter green?
It seems a little excessive to have two bean varieties in this top-ten list (to say nothing of the four tomatoes!) but I can’t help it. The blue cocos are not only a gorgeous, deep purple, with a sweet, crispy, lovely flavor – they’re so thick on the vines you can grab them in handfuls. I love the contrast they make, the dark purple beans against the bright green foliage.
I’m sure I’ll be trying a bunch of new varieties next year. But you can bet these ten will be in the seed order, too – and hopefully, they’ll produce as well as they have this season. The varities that you can count on, that prove themselves season after season – those are the ones that are going to make it onto my top ten list for life.