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Event offers a tomato for every taste

10th annual Tomato Tasting Day includes heirlooms, heritage, slicers, cherry and grape tomatoes

August 25, 2010|By DANA BROWN
  • Kenzi Wolfe, left, of Chambersburg, Pa., slices tomatoes as Mary Clark of Hershey, Pa. salts a slice to taste Wednesday at the 10th annual Tomato Tasting Day in Chambersburg.
Dana Brown, Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Looks aren't everything when it comes to a great-tasting tomato.

And looks can be deceiving.

"The ugly ones are better," Master Gardener Mike Cannady said as he carefully sliced a bi-colored variety of one of America's most-popular fruits.

Cannady joined about 200 tomato growers and connoisseurs Wednesday at the 10th annual Tomato Tasting Day at the Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension in Chambersburg.

Participants were treated to a blind taste test of 23 varieties of tomatoes, including heirlooms, heritage, slicers, cherry and grape tomatoes.

"There are well over 1,000 varieties," Master Gardener Ray Eckhart said. "If you're used to the red, round tomatoes from the grocery store, this is a pleasant surprise."

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The tomatoes varied in size, shape and color, ranging from classic round, red tomatoes to yellow, grape-shaped tomatoes.

"I didn't realize there were so many flavors, so many different types," taster Catherine Burke said. "Some look like little cherries."

Tomato-tasting participants were given an evaluation sheet to rate each variety on its aesthetic appeal and taste.

What looks good might not necessarily taste good, Master Gardener Mary Donaldson said.

"People say, 'I don't like the looks of them,' but when they taste them, they love them," Donaldson said.

All the featured tomatoes were home-grown.

"These are all truly backyard varieties," said Steve Bogash, regional horticulture educator for the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension. "This is a celebration of this part of the season."

Bogash said a large percentage of people want the red, acidic tomato and a whole other group wants the sweeter variety.

"Every tomato will polarize people to either the sweet or that classic tomato taste," he said.

For the taste testing, each tomato variety was designated by a letter only. Once participants concluded their taste test, they were given a key that included information about each tomato variety, where to buy seeds for home garden planting, information about the best growing conditions for each variety and the yield to expect.

Linda Watkins, volunteer master gardener and event coordinator, said Tomato Tasting Day has been growing each year, attracting people who want to take up home gardening.

"They are curious," she said.

But the event also attracted people who simply love the taste of a good tomato.

"They are my favorite food," said Anita Stabile of Harrisburg, Pa. "I had a tomato and cheese sandwich for breakfast."

"There weren't any real losers in the group," said Chris Finnegan, also of Harrisburg.

Bogash said the tasting results will be summarized and published so gardeners can select their favorite varieties for their own gardens.

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