Indigo Rose Tomatoes

When you’re just getting thoroughly tired of winter–about late November or  very early January–the seed catalogs start to appear in the mail box.  You spend hours happily looking through them and anticipating planting seed.  There are all those gorgeous pictures and the descriptions.  For me this is especially a problem with tomatoes.  So, every year I end up wanting something new–in addition to those heirlooms that I always want (Black Krim, Cherokee Purple). Last year my new addition was a Japanese Black Trifle.  It’s now become one of the regulars, and is close to replacing the Black Krim because it tastes wonderful and produces more tomatoes.

This past winter the tomato that aroused my curiosity most was an Indigo Rose, described in Johnny’s Select Seeds as a cocktail sized tomato, dark purple because of the anthocyanins (anti-oxidants) which develop in areas of the skin exposed to direct sunlight. To further titillate, it was described as ” good flavor with ‘plummy’ overtones. Developed by Jim Myers at Oregon State University using traditional plant breeding techniques. Moderately vigorous. Compact indeterminate. Organically grown.”  Now, who could possibly resist that in the midst of grey skies and cold rain?  Yes, I ordered some seeds.

Sprays of unripe Indigo Rose Tomatoes on the vine

unripe Indigo Rose tomatoes

Now we are harvesting them from the garden and fields–the acid test, so to speak.  I’ll concede that they are moderately vigorous, compact indeterminate, and very striking when you see them in the garden even when unripe the purple anthocyanin pigment is really obvious.

As they ripen to red (thus, the “Rose”, I guess) they really are lovely–impressive to be perfectly honest about it.

The very first ones that I tasted left me somewhat ambivalent about the taste–maybe I  tried them before that were appropriately ripe, or maybe I just like a different style of tomatoes–anyhow, there were different opinions.

Ripe Indigo Rose tomatoes

ripe Indigo Rose on the vine

Now that I’ve tasted some that I’m sure are really ripe, and tried them in several different ways, other than just eaten out of hand, I’m more interested in exploring different things to do with them.

I have to say that they are not going to make it on to my bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich–not nearly tart enough to stand up to the really good dry cured kind of bacon that I like to put on my BLTs.  (I would put a Black Krim, or a Japanese Black Trifele, or a Brandy Boy on my BLT, though.) But–there are lots of tomatoes that I really like for different uses that don’t make it onto the BLT either–so no strike against the Indigo Rose for that reason.

My impression eating them out of hand is that they are a very low acid tomato.  Usually I prefer higher acid tomatoes–a balance of tomato-tart and tomato-sweet.  So this is not going to be my choice of tomato for my sloppy, eat-over-the-sink-with-mayo tomato sandwich (which needs to be on white bread, too, by the way!) either.

But–one of my other summer favorites is insalata Caprese.  One of the fun things to do when making this salad is to have different kinds of tomatoes–lots of visual appeal–like Green or Red Zebras, some pink, some purple–whatever!  I tried these with the fresh mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil, and just a tiny drizzle of a good balsamic vinegar.  The sweet-tartness of the balsamic really showed the sweet tomato flavor of the Indigo Rose tomatoes.  I did not (I know Indigo rose tomatoes in basket after pickingit’s heresy, but I did not) put basil on this salad–I used Syrian oregano, and it was a lovely salad.

For more taste and visual contrast I might combine these with an orange or yellow (also lower acid) tomato, but not with high acid tomatoes–I think that would just make the Indigo Rose ones taste bland–but that’s the next experiment!  A reason to go tomato shopping at the Wake Forest Farmers’ market tomorrow.

Another way that I’d like to try them is slowly oven-roasted to concentrate the flavors–I think that will really bring out the sweet, plummy flavor–again another experiment.  They are a good size to use in green salads, but I’d want a pretty mellow vinaigrette with them–maybe just extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes…..

It’s so easy to run out of room to plant tomatoes, and to plant (and produce) more than you can actually, really use!  Especially in December and January when you’re drooling over the seed catalogs and yearning for really good tomatoes.   There are some that I just have to plant every year.    The list gradually gets modified as I read about and try new varieties, though I often plant heirlooms, even though they may not be the most productive.

Given limited space, I don’t usually plant “paste” or “plum” tomatoes–I’ll settle for buying good quality canned tomatoes for sauce and winter use.  I usually only plant indeterminate tomatoes, and those that are good for eating–cherries and medium-sized fruits.  The first requirement is that they must taste really good–I like some acid tang in my tomatoes, but I like complex flavor too–so here are some of the ones that I plant at home.

I don’t want absolutely huge tomatoes either–I use a lot of “cherry” or “grape” tomatoes since they do well in salads, and as snacks.  I really want a tomato that is the right size for me to eat at one time since refrigerating a cut tomato changes the flavor and texture in a way that really makes it inedible as an uncooked tomato!

Sungold cherry tomatoes on the vine


Topping the “must-have” list are Sungold cherry tomatoes–it’s summer candy and snack food!  These are a deep tangerine orange, small, cherry tomato–about the size of a dime–that grows in clusters. You won’t find them in the grocery store–they are fragile–a bit of rain and they split very easily.  If you want them, you’ll need to visit your local farmers’ market or plant your own.  They’re very productive, early indeterminate tomato–meaning that the do get tall and gangling as they continue to put out new growth.  The good thing about this is that they will keep on producing tomatoes until frost–in the mild NC climate, I’ve sometimes picked them in December.  If you’re growing them, you’ll soon learn that if you hear a rumble of thunder you should run right out and pick  the ripe ones so that they don’s split in the rain.

photograph of Black Krim tomato fruit from Johnny's Select seeds.

Black Krim

Even though they don’t produce a lot of fruit, I almost always plant Black Krim tomatoes.  (Since I don’t have pictures of my own, I’ve gotten some from various catalogs/websites from which I usually buy seeds.)  I always wish that they were more productive, but I like them so well that I’m very grateful for the few that I do get from each plant.   These are a slicing tomato that is usually about 8 to 16 ounces in size.  The flavor is very complex–often characterized as “smoky”.  These are in the “beefsteak” category–meaty, with few seeds.  These are not going to be the most regular, round tomatoes that you’ll get from the garden, but they are luscious. They do need to be harvested while the shoulders are still green–while they may seem slightly under-ripe.  I think that they get “over-ripe” easily and then they will not have good texture–they’ll just kind of disintegrate.

pear-shaped Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes on the vine.

Black Trifele

Another “must-have” for me is the Japanese Black Trifele tomato.  Again, no photograph of my own so I’ve used the one from Johnny’s Select seeds.  (Yes, I am very partial to the “black” tomatoes–there’s something about the flavors of them that has me hooked!)  These are a smaller tomato–about 4 to 6 ounces–that are great in insalata caprese, or any other way that you care to serve them up.  These are also indeterminate plants that will continue to produce over a long season.   Like the Black Krim, they should be harvested while the shoulders are still green.   These are a “potato leafed” tomato–if you’re used to the usual tomato leaf shape, these can look distinctly un-tomato like.

Indigo Rose cherry tomatoes..very deep red to purple.  From Johnny's Select Seeds.

Indigo Rose

A new addition for me this year is the Indigo Rose tomato–I’ve not seen it before this year, nor have I tasted it, but from the catalog descriptions it was just not possible to pass it up!   Since it’s new, the photograph comes from Johnny’s Select Seeds.  I can’t wait to see how these look and taste from my garden.   I should share what I was looking at in December so here’s the description from Johnny’s Select Seeds: “Anthocyanins are powerful anti-oxidants. In the early stages of fruit development, Indigo Rose develops a dark purple pigment in its skin where exposed to direct sunlight. Green when unripe, purple-red when ripe, the 1-2 oz., cocktail-sized tomatoes have good flavor with ‘plummy’ overtones. Developed by Jim Myers at Oregon State University using traditional plant breeding techniques. Compact indeterminate.   Days to Maturity or Bloom:   75.

Black Cherry cherry tomatoes.

Black Cherry

Another (if my plants succeed) that I hope to have is  the Black Cherry tomato.  Again, a cherry tomato that’s about an ounce or just a bit under, with maroon exterior and a wine red meat.  I first planted these two years ago.  They’re an indeterminate tomato as well–they were very productive for a long season.  (The deer ate the plants last year.)  I’ll hope that I’m lucky enough to have my own pictures of the ones in my garden this year–but  until then, these are courtesy of Johnny’s Select Seeds catalog.

That’s the selection so far…under consideration for the very few remaining spaces–maybe even only one–on the tomato trellis is a basic red slicing tomato…nothing huge, just something tasty!  Time to prowl the farmers’ market, though I might end up with another “specialty” tomato since the plants that we put in the field to harvest  for the farmers’ market provide me with a good supply of more basic red slicing tomatoes–like Brandy Boy, John Baer, Valley Girl, Champion, and others.  That means that I can get really esoteric with my choices for the home garden and still have the basics in good supply!