Friday, August 21, 2009

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

I've been growing this tomato for several summers now, saving the seed from year to year. I have always loved the balance of sweet and tart in its flavor, but this summer I found out something else good about it: it appears to be resistant to late blight, the tomato disease that devastated tomato crops across the country. Another variety of small tomato that I call Little Bradley succumbed to late blight.

Most people think of cherry tomatoes as salad tomatoes to be eaten raw, but I cook them all the time. Of course, you can't really peel and seed them unless you want to spend hours doing it. I sometimes "seed" them simply by squeezing them: the seeds shoot out and you can catch them in a cup or bowl. (More about what to do with the seeds below.)
But if you put the cherry tomatoes whole into a sauce pan on low, and mash them a bit with a potato masher, they cook down into a slurry of peels, seeds and juice. Then you can strain them in a wire mesh strainer. I use the back of a wooden spoon to press the pulp through the strainer. Even better is a food mill (but I don't have one right now), the kind with holes and a crank that forces food through the holes.

After I've strained the juice from the seeds and peels, I cook it down into a thicker sauce, with other vegetables. Okra and peppers are good. Last night I added some risotto rice to the "soup," which thickened it nicely. I know this is an unorthodox way to cook risotto rice--usually you are directed to add a little liquid at a time to it while constantly stirring--but it works fine.

About saving tomato seeds: it is very easy. Pick tomatoes from at least five different plants if possible. Squeeze the seeds into a small cup or bowl and set the mixture of juice and seeds on a counter for a few days. After a few days you will see a white mold growing on the top of the mixture. This is good: this fermentation allegedly kills some seed-borne diseases. After about three days and the formation of the white mold, pour the whole yucky mixture into your wire mesh strainer and run cold water over it to rinse off the mold. Then dump the seeds onto a paper plate. The cheapest paper plates work the best. Don't use a paper towel: the seeds will stick and you won't be able to get them off. Newspaper works, though, in a pinch.

After a few days the seeds will have dried on the paper plate. Some will have stuck, but you can easily scrape them loose. Try to separate the seeds from each other by rubbing the clumps between your fingers. Then put them in a small jar or a ziploc bag and store in the refrigerator until next spring, when you start your tomatoes. You will have a LOT of seeds, plenty to share.

Matt's Wild Cherry is so wild that it will reseed itself frequently in and around the garden. It is in fact a different species from other tomatoes, I learned recently. It is really Lycopersicon esculentum, rather than Lycopersicon lycopersicum. I learned this from reading the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog. They sell Matt's Wild Cherry, and so does Johnny's Select Seeds.

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