This is the second season that I've grown Burpee's 'Black Pearl' and it's become one of my favorites. I had the pleasure of interviewing George Ball Jr., the company's chairman for my Sunday morning radio show on KDKA. We talked a lot about tomatoes and the direction his breeders were taking. In many cases, they are taking heirloom varieties and trying to improve on them.
This tomato started with 'Black Cherry,' but 'Black Pearl' is sweeter, earlier and more prolific. This plant has outgrown its five foot cage and the vines have infringed on its neighbors, crawling six feet in either direction.
Every day I pick a bowl of them, slice them in half and make a salad out of the treats.
One of the other interesting things about this tomato is that is tastes different when it's refrigerated. The story goes that when they were being trialed at Fordhook Farm, an intern put a bucket of "Black Pearl' tomatoes in the fridge. His supervisor was ready to read him the riot act until he tasted the cold version and thought they tasted a bit like grapes.
I've been watching Burpee's breeding program over the last decade and I think they have released some of the most amazing tomatoes. 'Brandy Boy' is my favorite beefsteak, bred from heirloom superstar 'Brandywine,' this tomato sets more reliably, is earlier and retains the old fashioned flavor of its parent.
'Sweet Seedless' is the only tomato bred that does not produce seeds, a godsend for tomato lovers who have contracted diverticulitis. But this is more than a novelty, 'Sweet Seedless' faired very well at the Great Tomato Taste off held this summer at Yarnick's Farm in Indiana.
For years gardeners were offered hybrid tomatoes with thick skins and lacking flavor. All the breeding money was going towards commercial varieties. They need that thick skin to ship and prefer tomatoes that ripen all at the same time for ease of harvest.
Those things are the opposite of what home gardeners need, and that's what Mr. Ball figured out. With the heirloom craze in full swing, he created tomatoes that can compete and in many cases surpass the old varieties.
The proof is in the pudding, well in the tomato patch anyway.