Saturday, 17 September 2016

Persimmon Tomatoes

I was a bit shocked to realize that I have not previously written a varietal report for Persimmon Tomatoes, because they are in many ways our most valuable tomato variety.

There are 2 different tomatoes known as Persimmon tomatoes, one originating in the United States and one from Russia, and to make it worse when I was researching this post I discovered another called Ukrainian Persimmon. All these tomatoes share a rich, persimmon orange colour, but are otherwise different enough to be quite distinguishable.

We have been growing the American variety. It is a long, rangy, indeterminate plant - the kind we have to grow, with our pernicious septoria leaf spot problem - with large fruits up to 2 pounds in size, but averaging about 1 pound each. The Russian Persimmon is a smaller determinate plant with smaller fruit, and we have not grown it. Persimmon was the first ripe tomato we harvested this year, which is amazing considering its size. Usually the cherry tomatoes are the first, but this year they were a day or two behind. It is quite likely that Persimmon will be the last tomato harvested as well, or if not within a day or two of it. In short, it has the longest production time of any tomato we grow, and per-plant productivity is high.

The tomatoes are delicious raw, with a rich but not too acidic flavour and firm, dense flesh low in seeds; smooth and melting in texture in the mouth. If they produce more than  you can eat raw, they cook and can very well. They are too moist to be a true canning tomato, but their productivity means they end up being a substantial contributor to our tomato sauce, and they hold up their end well. If you use them in canning, be sure to add vinegar or lemon juice though, as I suspect they are indeed on the low-acid end of the tomato range. 

They are described as being ripe in 80 days from planting out. Are all our other tomatoes that late or later? Maybe. We need to start growing some earlier ones. We have had no problems with splitting or blossom end rot, both of which affected other tomatoes this year what with the heat and drought. They do tend to be a little on the soft side, and start so low on the plant and get so big that they can get trapped and distorted by their own vines; it's a good idea to monitor them a bit as they grow. Slugs like this one too so watch for them. Otherwise, these have been as trouble-free as any tomato we grow. The ones in the picture are late specimens, and so a bit smaller and wonkier in shape than the best of them. The core is substantial, as it needs to be to support so large a tomato. As I say, we regard this as our most important tomato variety; one we automatically allot 3 out of our 14 trellises to every year and then ask, okay what else shall we grow?

The history of this tomato is somewhat unclear to me. There are claims out there that his was grown by Thomas Jefferson in the 1780s. That seems very unlikely to me; 18th century tomatoes were generally smaller and more ribbed, not to say red. On the other hand, if anyone had access to orange tomatoes then, it would have been him. However, Carolyn Male found no reference to it in his journals and thinks it very unlikely this tomato appeared before the 1880s, which is what Tatiana's TomatoBASE lists. What does seem likely is that this tomato entered wide circulation through Kent Whealy and the Seed Savers Exchange, via Ken Ettlinger of the Long Island Seed Project, who received the seed originally from Ben Quisenberry. Ben Quisenberry was a notable figure in  heirloom tomato circles; his small seed company called Big Tomato Gardens in Syracuse, Ohio was the source of many of the tomatoes that formed the foundation of the modern heirloom seed movement. Where he would have gotten it is unknown; it is even possible it is of his own breeding or at least that he selected and shaped it in its present form.

On which note, there seems to be quite a lot of variation in what people report from growing Persimmon. Some people don't find it productive at all. It is possible that its qualities vary in varying conditions, but it is equally likely that it has been around long enough that there are some fairly different strains of it out there. If you try it and it doesn't live up to expectations, try getting seed from a different source before you give up. Our seed came from Tatiana's TomatoBASE.

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