Friday, 1 September 2017

Dancing With Smurfs Tomato

When we first started gardening here, 9 years ago, there were no "blue" tomatoes available. Since then, they have become a big fad and almost common. One of the most popular and widely available is Dancing with Smurfs. I received a few seeds in a seed-trade a few years back, but they are available from Greta's Organic Gardens, Solana Seeds, and Urban Harvest, at least this year.

We did not jump into the mania for blue tomatoes feet-first; by the time we heard about them we had a pretty full complement of tomatoes going. Also early reports were that these blue tomatoes didn't taste that great. In fact, we grew Dancing with Smurfs last year for the first time and I have to admit... we forgot to pick any. I kept looking at them, and admiring how lovely they looked, and just not eating them. This year I resolved to do better.

Part of the problem is that although they look like an oversized cherry tomato or small salad tomato, they are not particularly early to ripen. The truss in the picture is the first I have picked. They get their lovely blue colour quite early in their development, but the underlying red of ripeness does not come until later. Days to maturity is said to be 70 days; I think they took longer than that but then tomatoes in general have been dire this year, what with the unrelenting rain and lack of really convincing heat.

Most of the blue tomatoes available in North America came out of a breeding program at Oregon State University, under the direction of Jim Myers. He was using material dating back as far as the 1960s, when the first attempts at a blue tomato were made. Apparently all tomatoes have the genetic ability to express anthocyanins in their skins; they just don't. It stays in the leaves and stems, where it does not provide any nutritional benefits. At OSU they crossed domestic tomatoes with wild species which did express the gene for blue skins.  Their first successful variety seems to be one known as P20. Out of that came a series of varieties with Indigo in the name... Indigo Rose is the best known of these, but I have not grown it. The general agreement though, is that these are not the best tasting of the blues.

In 2004 Tom Wagner, breeder of the well-known Green Zebra tomato (and many other things) and a number of other independent tomato breeders got some material from the university and they continued with their own breeding work on blue skinned tomatoes. In 2011 Tom Wagner released the f3 of what is now Dancing with Smurfs, and apparently it has been quite stable since then, although I suspect growers are still selecting for the plants with the most blue to the tomatoes.

Those wild tomato genes also make the blue tomatoes robust plants with resistance to diseases, including to some degree, it is said, to the dreaded late blight. I have never had that - *knocks wood, sprinkles salt over shoulder, spits* - so I really can't comment. However, I note that they don't have any particular resistance to our endemic septoria leaf-spot. Given that they have rather sparse foliage to start with, mine are now looking very denuded. The sparse foliage does help to ensure the blueness of the tomatoes, though, as the colour is produced in conjunction with lots of sunlight.

So, how do they taste?

Quite pleasant, I would say, although they won't be my favourite tomato. They are distinctly sweet, a bit mild, with a slight but definite note of bitterness in that anthocyanin-rich skin. I'm not about to replace blueberries with these, is what I'm saying. Given what a crappy year this has been for tomatoes, I may not (almost certainly not) be tasting them at their best. I'd say they're well worth trying particularly if you want to have a range of small tomatoes in a rainbow of colours - definitely a worth-while ambition. Keep in mind, too, that I am not the greatest lover of raw tomatoes and cherry tomatoes in particular. You may think these are terrific - lots of people do.

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