Vegetables and Fruit forum: Someone IS Breeding Better-Tasting Tomatoes!

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Name: Don Shirer
Westbrook, CT (Zone 6a)
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DonShirer
Apr 13, 2016 3:59 AM CST
In a recent post I mentioned that the Dwarf Tomato Project was an example that showed you could breed tomatoes for better taste, and now I have found an even better one.

Harry Klee has been heading a project at the University of Florida to identify the biochemical and other qualities that produce better tasting tomatoes, and to use this knowledge to breed tomatoes that combine the best qualties of the better tasting heirlooms and the higher yield hybrids. In an hour-long talk (plus a question period) sponsored by Carnegie Science with the provocative title “Why Doesn’t My Supermarket Tomato Have Any Flavor and Why Should I Care?” (see the links below) he explains why commercial varieties don’t taste good, how research can identify what causes good taste (and surprisingly these often produce good nutrition as well) and how they have already produced (by conventional breeding methods) some promising new cultivars for home gardeners.

Both the talk and his website (where for a small donation you can get some sample seeds) are worth exploring.

The talk:
http://library.fora.tv/2015/09/17/Why_Doesnt_My_Supermarket_...

The website:
http://www.hos.ufl.edu/kleeweb/newcultivars.html
Name: Paul Fish
Brownville, Nebraska (Zone 5b)
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PaulF
Apr 13, 2016 6:44 AM CST
Isn't it great that academia is beginning to catch up with the real world. Tomato growing folks have known all about this topic for many years and hundreds have been part of their own breeding programs for a long time. With the thousands of heirloom/OP tomatoes on the commercial market why even bother with another red, round tomato? I guess I will try some.....after I grow out the varieties available that are on my list I have not yet grown. The new hybrids are in line and slated for 2152.
Name: Claud
Water Valley, Ms (Zone 7b)
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saltmarsh
Apr 16, 2016 1:16 AM CST
Hi Don, thanks for starting the thread.

I grew up on a truck farm in the 50s and 60s. Started peddlin' vegetables when I was 8.

Back then with the tomatoes, we started the seeds in a cold frame to have transplants ready to go in the ground as soon as weather permitted. We used contour farming to control erosion and planted on south facing hillsides to take advantage of the inclination of the sun in the early spring.

3 or 4 varieties of tomatoes were chosen for planting each year based on past performance, early maturity, production, and disease resistance. Red, Round, and good Flavor were a given, nothing else would even be considered. All were hybrids and my father always bitched about having to pay $65 for an 1/8 ounce of seed. You could buy a good mule for the same money or a matched pair for $150. But he always bought the seed.

As soon as the tomatoes started ripening, they were harvested twice a week. Any tomato showing color was picked, wiped with a soft rag, and the stem removed in the field before being placed gently into a basket. This minimized bruising and damage from sand.

When the tomatoes had been picked, they were moved to a shade tree or shed, depending on the weather for sorting and packing.

We used a pink to ripe pack in half bushel baskets. Clean baskets in good condition were lined with doubled newspaper in the bottom and sides. You sat with 2 of these baskets in front of you to pack in and 3 or 4 baskets of field tomatoes around you to pick from. A bushel basket was placed between the packers for cutters and canners (blemished tomatoes, cat-faced, malformed because it had grown in the fork of a vine, over ripe or too green, too large or too small, sun-scalded, anything which wasn't a number one, but was still an edible tomato.) (These were sold to cafes, restaurants, and home canners for half the price of number one tomatoes and normally covered all the production and marketing expenses for all the crops.

The number one tomatoes were packed tightly with a layer of pinking tomatoes on the bottom, a layer of tomatoes showing good color next, a layer of half-ripe tomatoes next and a layer of ripe tomatoes on top. A properly packed dry basket would weigh 23 pounds and wouldn't vary more than an ounce (22 pounds of tomatoes and a 1 pound basket).

The merchants and grocers liked this because all they had to do was place the basket on an angle and the produce was ready to sell. As the ripe tomatoes sold, the greener tomatoes below ripened and were ready for sale.

Today you can buy tomatoes year round and can find fresh tomatoes on sale for $.88 a pound in the dead of winter. They've been picked green, gassed and shipped for hundreds or thousands of miles to a store near you.

All that work and effort to put inedible fruit within your reach. And because of the marketing and economics involved, I don't think things will change in this regard.

But you can take those red rocks and easily turn them into tomatoes almost as good as those from your own vines.

I do love a good tomato and mayonnaise sandwich. That's why I started growing tomatoes after 40 years away from the farm. I couldn't get good tasting tomatoes for a sandwich.
That long dry spell from when the tomatoes petered out in the fall until the first ripe ones were ready in the spring made that first tomato sandwich of the year a pleasure.

Well, not anymore.

A hot water bath will improve most tomato varieties flavor. (A lot)

Buy a half dozen of the hard red slicers available at most stores now. Pick out tomatoes without bruises or breaks in the skin and less than ripe. Use a meat Thermometer and run 125 degree water in a pot. Place the tomatoes in the hot water and cover with a saucer so they stay submerged. After 5 minutes remove the tomatoes and allow them to ripen on your counter (don't refrigerate) for a week. Then enjoy.

Tomatoes - 125 degree water - 5 minutes - ripen on the counter for a week

This works great on the red slicers currently coming out of Mexico. The only tomatoes I've found that weren't improved are the "Tomatoes on the Vine". I think they must have bred the flavor out of that variety.

Now keep some tomatoes ripening. Claud
[Last edited by saltmarsh - Apr 16, 2016 1:17 AM (+)]
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Name: Don Shirer
Westbrook, CT (Zone 6a)
Seed Starter
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DonShirer
Apr 16, 2016 2:56 AM CST
Always nice to hear personal anecdotes like yours, Claud. And thanks for the warm-water tip. I'll try it the next time DW brings home a supermarket tomato!
Name: Carol
Santa Ana,Ca. (Zone 10b)
Sunset zone 22
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
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ctcarol
Apr 16, 2016 10:19 AM CST
Yes! Thanks for the tip! I'm going crazy waiting for mine to start producing.
Name: Claud
Water Valley, Ms (Zone 7b)
Charter ATP Member
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saltmarsh
Apr 16, 2016 10:57 AM CST
I just had two tomato sandwiches for lunch Carol. After you try it, share it with your friends, they'll love you for it.

This should become common knowledge just like wrapping the stem end of your bananas with plastic wrap to make them last a week longer.

Also, if you bought a tomato because you have to have a tomato to use tonight, give it the hot water bath, but leave it in the water for an hour instead of 5 minutes. Not as good as the normal routine but a definite improvement.
Name: Carol
Santa Ana,Ca. (Zone 10b)
Sunset zone 22
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
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ctcarol
Apr 16, 2016 4:22 PM CST
Hilarious! I wish you had posted that last bit before I had lunch!
Edited to say I wish I had seen that last bit before lunch. LOL! Not your fault I had signed off.
[Last edited by ctcarol - Apr 16, 2016 5:13 PM (+)]
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Name: Rita
North Shore, Long Island, NY
Zone 6B
Charter ATP Member Seed Starter Tomato Heads I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Vegetable Grower Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge)
Birds Garden Ideas: Master Level Butterflies Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Roses Hummingbirder
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Newyorkrita
Apr 18, 2016 5:29 PM CST
Wow, I never knew such a thing as I thought nothing could improve the taste of the store bought tomatoes. Very interesting thread. Both on the breeding project and the hot water bath. Thumbs up

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