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Sauces, Salsas and Salads

By Heide Dolan, Colorado Master Gardener

So many great tomato varieties, Photo: Heide Dolan

Spring has arrived here in Colorado and, for many, vegetable garden planning is in full swing. Whether you start seeds yourself, or buy plant seedlings, there are a few tomato tips you need to know when picking your summer tomato varieties. If you want scrumptious sauces, salsas and salads, did you know certain variety types perform better for specific purposes?

Beefsteak tomatoes, Photo:

Sauce Tomatoes – For luscious but fresh tasting sauces, it is best to grow and use varieties that have dense flesh, less water content and fewer seeds. Typically this type of tomato is referred to as a paste tomato. Pastes tend to be long and skinnier than our beloved beefsteak varieties. In turn, their vines tend to be wispy and lanky and must be staked to keep fruit off the ground. The paste taste can seem more “dry” to the tongue than a tomato we may prefer to eat fresh from the vine. This is actually a good thing. Since there is less water in the tomato composition to begin with, the fruit simply needs less manipulation to be turned into a rich marinara. Many heirloom paste tomatoes have wonderful Italian family lineages and funny names too. A few to make you giggle include Fat Mamma, Granny’s Throwing and Big Gig.  More common paste tomatoes found at local nurseries include Roma, San Marzano, and San Marzano Redorta.

Left, Oxheart tomato, Photo:; Right, Photo:

Salsa Tomatoes – Consider growing and using a mix of types to get multi-leveled texture and taste profiles. Pastes are wonderful for roasting first to bring out a delectable, charred caramelization. Skins from roasted pastes peel off quite easily too. It is a good idea to also include more juicy varieties such as beefsteak or oxheart tomatoes into your salsa mix. These tomatoes tend to have more meaty flesh with that summer taste encapsulated in lovingly imperfect oblate shapes. Their drippy juices too–smoky, salty or sweeter–help define the salsa base taste. Some fun heirlooms that make great salsas include Brandywine, Lancaster County Pink or Amish Yellowish Orange Oxheart. Varieties available locally include some hybrids such as Big Beef and Brandy Boy, as well as heirlooms like Black Krim and Amana Orange.

Salad Tomatoes – Did you know there is a whole category of tomatoes called saladettes? If you want some great fresh eating from petite mouthfuls of goodness, try growing saladettes or larger cherry tomatoes. Kids love them too. They come in all colors of the rainbow for colorful and magical salad enhancements.  From Green Bee, a newer green when ripe, almost crunchy, apple-like large cherry, to the beloved Japanese hybrid cherry Sungold, small fruited types are a quick and easy addition to elevate any salad. Half the battle with growing cherry tomatoes is actually getting them out of the garden and into the kitchen before you pop them straight into your mouth.

It’s always good to think about your goals for using summer’s finest almighty tomatoes when planning your garden. Which varieties will you try this year?

For more information on tomatoes, see the following links:

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