Tomato varieties and their uses(Canning, slicing, etc)

Noteybook(5)May 25, 2013

As per my luck this year, I've managed to find some work in a small garden nursery/fruitstand. In being there, I've learned quite a lot about vegetable plants and flowers.

But what I'm still unsure of is what tomato varieties are best for canning, slicing, juice, and such other things. I know of a few that are good in general, such as Brandywine and Better Boy, and that Romas are good for sauces, but other then that I'm a bit lacking in the know-how department.

Any suggestions? We can throw in those odd colored varieties too, recommendations for growing, etc

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

This kind of issue comes up often over on the Harvest forum here - it's the canning/preserving forum - and there are two schools of thought.

1 - the general uninformed public seems to think that only paste-type tomatoes are used for canning, making sauce, etc. because that is what they "read somewhere". They think only Roma (variety name) is the best despite the fact that it has never been known for its flavor. In fact with a few exceptions, few paste types are noted for their flavor. So the experienced canner wonders why bother to do all that work to preserve something with so little flavor.

They do, however dehydrate very well and the flavor intensifies so for those looking to make sun-dried tomatoes they - any paste-type - work great.

Experienced canners usually try to convert the sauce makers to #2 way of thinking.

2 - the best tomatoes for canning are a mix of different varieties and types. Not only do you get the advantage of some reduced cooking down if some paste types are incorporated but you get a superior flavor by incorporating slicing types - almost any slicing type, yes even hybrids. :)

This flavor difference is especially important when it comes to making salsas - either for fresh eating or for canning. Salsas made from a mix of many different slicing varieties is far superior to any made from only paste types.

When it comes to colors - unfortunately red seems to be the only color the majority of the public accepts and you have to really work at it to get them to accept other colors. There is nothing more attractive than a salsa made from mixed red, yellows, and orange tomatoes. And canned jars of just tomatoes, when mixed varieties and colors are great additions to the cupboard.

Cherry types are generally used for fresh snacking and dehydrating and Sun Gold, Sweet Million, Black Cherry are all popular varieties. Some do incorporate them into salsa and canned tomatoes if you don't mind having the peels left in .

Hope this helps you some.


PS: if you can tell us what varieties are being offered for sale we can rate them for flavor even though "taste" is such a personal thing it varies from person to person.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 11:04AM
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Hey Dave! Thank you for the info for canning-I myself have a variety at home, and where I work we do offer a variety of colors and types, so it's nice to know I can suggest multiple colors for canning.

As for a list of what we have at work, I'll try my best to remember them all;

Heirlooms: Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Mr Stripey, Yellow Pear, Hillbilly

Hybrids: Big Boy, Better Boy, Celebrity, Patio(cherry types), Grape, Husky Cherry Red, Early Girl, Sweet Million and Lemon Boy

We also have grafted tomato plants of the larger variety and smaller cherry types. I can't quite remember what all else we have, but 75% of what we have is red tomatoes. We get a lot of farmers and homesteaders and they ask about the canning/slicing and I don't know what much to recommend, since I'm only in my second year of gardening. They ask about mostly tomatoes, though peppers and cold crops are a close one.

This post was edited by Noteybook on Sat, May 25, 13 at 14:14

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 2:08PM
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In my experience, flavor is less of a consideration than utility when canning large quantities of tomatoes. A good canning variety will be one with a rounded or oblong shape with a skin that slips off easily and one that is of medium size. Ribbed tomatoes, varieties prone to catfacing, tomatoes with large crevasses near the stem, and varieties with different colored shoulders don't make the best canning tomatoes because they require more work to remove the skin, stem, and cut off bad spots. They can add great flavor to the mix, but they're more work. I try to make those type of tomatoes account for only 1/4-1/3 of the mix. Likewise, small tomatoes are more work and huge beefsteaks are mostly juice. If you are only making one batch, it doesn't matter. If you're canning many quarts, it's worth your effort to select several varieties that will fill up a jar more quickly with the least amount of effort and the most amount of meat possible. For people planting a smaller numbers of plants, including determinates like Rutgers and Ace are good to obtain a large enough batch of tomatoes that ripen at the same time for canning.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 2:18PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

A couple of other tips you could pass on to those new to canning or those not current with the guidelines may find helpful:

1 - by far the most popular method of canning tomatoes is called Crushed Tomatoes with no added liquid for the best over-all quality and unlimited utility. The instructions are also in all the Ball Canning books.

2 - rather than using the old "dip in boiling water to peel" method many have shifted to the recommended "freeze whole for min. of 48 hours" method. Just fill a big bag with whole tomatoes and set it in the freezer. When thawed the skins sip right off easily. Some core the fruit first, some don't. Much less time consuming, easier peeling, and less heat in the kitchen.

I would disagree with euarto that big beefsteaks are mostly juice but I suppose that would depend on how one raised them. And of course if you just drain any tomatoes before jarring you eliminate most of the juice and cut any cooking time by half.

Again you'll find much more about all this over on Harvest if interested.

Heirlooms: (#1)Cherokee Purple, (#2)Brandywine, Mr Stripey (blah), Yellow Pear, (yucko) (#3)Hillbilly

Hybrids: (2) Big Boy, (1)Better Boy, Celebrity, Patio(cherry types), Grape, (6)Husky Cherry Red, (4)Early Girl, (5)Sweet Million and (3)Lemon Boy. I'd skip the rest.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 3:50PM
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I'm about as much of an amateur at canning as you can get (I canned about 6 jars of tomatoes and salsa last year and decided it wasn't for me and haven't done it since), but the one thing I did decide about varieties was that I think purple varieties look very unappealing in jars. The yellows, reds, and oranges were lovely, but the purples look like there's something rotting inside there. Just my opinion. Maybe there are recipes that make them look nicer - I don't know...

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 6:09PM
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Like Julia, I found canning way too much work. But I also agree Julia, the purples can eve make the sauce a weird color, kind of muddy looking. They're great fresh even as a quick sauté just not blended in a sauce. IMO. I also agree with Dave, Yellow Pear and Mr. stripey, blah! Not a fan of Lemon Boy either. I freeze my cherries and use them for a quick pasta dish because by the end of the season, if there's too many, it's an easy solution. And I just eat the slicers.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 8:48AM
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Sharonie, do you freeze your cherries whole? I have a volunteer grape tomato plant that has produced so many tomatoes I can'r keep it picked, and my kids are just about sick of them. Can I just pop them right in the freezer without peeling (I usually peel and slice)? Do you then pick the skins out of the sauce or just leave them?

Funny about Lemon Boy... Last year I picked up one plant and it was my favorite far and above all the other varieties I grew (about 5 hybrid and 15 heirlooms). So I thought everyone disparaging the flavor of LB must be crazy. So this year I planted 2 more and they were just meh... I'm not sure what made the difference. Too bad. They look pretty chopped and frozen into ice cubes, though.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 1:57PM
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caryltoo Z7/SE PA

I've been canning for years and the best thing I've ever done was getting a strainer -- I just wash, quarter and crank them through the strainer, which removes the seeds and skin leaving me with juice, which I cook down into sauce. There's also a larger salsa screen which gives you a more chunky consistency.

I use all of my tomato varieties, too -- paste and slicers, round, heart shaped, whatever, and all colors too.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 2:18PM
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For me, it wasn't that the canning was a lot of work, but rather that I didn't like the end result. I didn't have a pressure canner, so I was just doing a boiling water bath, and all the approved recipes use so much vinegar or lemon that nothing tasted right to me...

But the strainer sounds like it would be great for fresh sauces, too!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 2:56PM
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Julia, I do freeze them whole. For a while I was roasting them in the oven with a low heat, olive oil, garlic and freezing. Now they go in whole skin and all. So easy!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 3:05PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Noteybook- to get your thread off the canning discussion (Harvest forum) and back on track you asked about methods for growing.

One big recommendation that is very important is ask if they will be growing in a container and if so encourage them to get one big enough. You'd be amazed how many folks think they can grow a big tomato plant in a small flower pot. 5 gallons minimum and bigger is much better.

Also they need to use potting mix not garden dirt in containers and they need to feed the plants regularly every 7-10 days when in containers.

We also have a good set of FAQs here you can read through for lots of basic info. Linked below.


Here is a link that might be useful: Growing Tomatoes FAQs

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 3:29PM
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