08-13-06 - 5

The dirty secret about heirloom tomatos is that most of them just don't taste very good. Yes, they're beautiful in all their colors, and of course an organic vine-ripened heirloom will taste far better than a grocery store tomato that was picked green and sat for a week at a distributor. However, varieties like Champion and Early Girl have been cultivated and bred to improve them for a hundred years with modern science and they've got enhanced sugar content, acidity, and firmness. Many heirlooms are mushy, watery, bland. Also good tomato flavor has more to do with the soil, temperature, sun, and water than anything else. The way to perfect tomatos is the Japanese growing method : let the plants get medium size then pinch them off so they stop growing and put all their energy into fruit; if they make too much fruit, pinch off some of the buds to limit the number of tomatos on any one plant. Finally, when they are close to maturity, reduce the amount of watering to near-drought levels, so that the fruit doesn't become big and heavy with water, but rather stays small and full of concentrated flavor. Almost no farmer does this because they make so much more money growing as many on a plant as possible of water-bloated big tasteless tomatos.

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