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Beefsteaks to Brandy Boys at tomato tasting event

August 23, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Scores of people armed with clipboards and toothpicks circled a tent on Franklin Farm Lane Wednesday, tasting and judging the flavor and aesthetic appeal of Smarty Grape, Jolly Elf, Brandy Boy and 29 other varieties of tomatoes, including HMX6830, which sounds more like a secret formula.

"That one is high-yielding and the taste is not bad," Steve Bogash said of the tomato with the license plate name. "It will probably make it onto the market with a name."

Bogash, the regional horticulture educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension, said the experimental variety is being developed by a seed company.

Whether you say "tomato" or "tomata," or consider it a fruit or vegetable, this member of the nightshade family comes in hundreds of varieties. All 32 varieties sliced and diced for tasting Wednesday have been ripening on vines in the extension service's demonstration garden.

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Despite the dry spells, Bogash said this has been a good summer for tomatoes, particularly if irrigated, as dry leaves and wet roots keep diseases at bay. Some of the plants in the demonstration garden have climbed a foot or so taller than Ryan White, a 6-foot-4-inch cooperative extension intern who, with intern Jennifer Asper, have been tending them this summer.

"I liked P," said Monica Schall of McConnellsburg, Pa.

"S ... P was good, too," said Jo Ann Carlson, also of McConnellsburg. The varieties, from cherries and slicers to reds, pinks and yellows, were labeled by letter, A through FF, so the tasters did not know what they were eating until they completed the survey.

S was another experimental variety, IL016, while P was a Brandy Boy, a large pink beefsteak tomato "with a soft heirloom texture, thin skin and that same incredible Brandywine flavor," according to the key handed out at the end.

"It's a great opportunity to pick your varieties for next year," said Cheryl Stearn of St., Thomas, Pa. The tasting gave her varieties to consider other than Big Boy, Early Girl and Patio, "which I grow year after year after year."

Area growers were invited to a special evening tasting, Bogash said. Though the numbers are hard to pin down, he said truck farming in the area accounts for millions of dollars in produce each year and, for farmers, deciding what varieties to plant is less a matter of taste than economics.

"They're looking for something to differentiate themselves from the grocery stores," Bogash said.

The tabulated votes of the tasters also could help decide the fate of those experimental varieties when the results are reported back to seed companies, he said.

Sampling 32 tomatoes is a lot for the palate to absorb.

"I love tomatoes, but I'm beginning to wonder if I can eat any more," said June Shadle of Chambersburg. Shadle said she spent Tuesday making salsa from her own tomatoes.

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