By D.J. Bernard and William McKenna, Contributing Writers
When it comes to tomato varieties, Richard Thomas, proprietor of Thomas Produce Farm in Burgaw, N.C., emphasizes tomatoes that have resistance to locally prevalent diseases.
“Spotted wilt flower is the most difficult problem to deal with in the Southeast,” Thomas said. “You need plants that are resistant to that, like Primo Red,” an extra-large beefsteak with good flavor.
The 63-year-old Thomas knows what he’s talking about.
“I’ve been growing tomatoes my whole life,” he said. Thomas’ parents started his family’s farm in 1954. He said you can grow Primo Red early and it remains crack-free throughout the summer.
Another good, all-purpose tomato is Amelia, a disease-resistant hybrid that’s widely available as seedlings in garden stores.
“Stick it in the ground and it will be a good producer,” Thomas said.
In order to stagger crops and receive an all-summer harvest, a tomato that may be planted in late summer is also a necessity. Thomas suggested Mountain Majesty, Red Mountain or Fletcher, which are large, red and virus-resistant.
All of these round varieties are the kind of tomatoes that are likely to produce bumper crops in the Southeast. Canning is a great way to deal with an abundance of these flavorful tomatoes, but a simpler alternative is to make raw tomato coulis.
Tomato coulis is somewhere between a salsa and a sauce, and makes a terrific pizza or fresh pasta sauce.
Coarsely chop tomatoes, sprinkle them with a little salt and put them in a strainer on top of a bowl. Let the juices drain for 30-60 minutes. Save the tomato water for use in risottos or other recipes that call for tomato flavors.
Combine the tomato pulp with a little olive oil, chopped garlic and fresh herbs.
For traditional cooked Italian pasta sauce, plum tomatoes are the best to grow because they have fewer seeds and juice than round tomatoes. Thomas recommended choosing the Heritage roma plum tomato because it is completely resistant to spotted wilt flower virus.
Heirloom tomatoes are all the rage, but they can be tricky to grow. Thomas said German Johnson and Homesteads can work in the Southeast. They’re delicious but delicate, so save them for eating raw. They’re great paired with sliced mozzarella in a Caprese salad. Any recipe that features raw tomatoes in their essence is perfect for heirlooms. Make a simple sandwich of sliced tomato and hard-boiled egg with a little mayo. But of course, nothing beats the classic BLT.
A beautiful, ripe, sun-warmed tomato, plucked from a vine and eaten on the spot is the perfect recipe and all the reward a gardener could hope for.