|By Skip Richter
Tomatoes! No vegetable comes close to the tomato when it comes to captivating the attention of gardeners. We are forever in search of the best tasting tomato, the most productive variety, the best way to grow them, and something new and different. I think if there were no new tomato varieties in a given year, the gardening world would cease to exist and the earth would certainly stop turning on its axis.
Tomatoes were once thought to drive men insane, earning them the name “mad apples.” This was long ago disproved, although with hindsight I suspect there may indeed be something to the idea as gardeners seem to go bonkers over these garden vegetables. There is more passion directed to the pursuit of the perfect tomato than all other vegetables combined.
There have been more than 4,000 named varieties of tomatoes, most of which have been lost over the years. Nevertheless, some specialty seed companies offer 200 varieties or more to choose from! We can choose various sizes (from smaller than a marble to 3 pound whoppers), various colors (including green, yellow, pink, burgundy/black, orange, chartreuse/white and striped), as well as various growth habits (from dwarf, to determinate, to indeterminate vining types). Want a meaty canning or processing type? You can have that too.
There are even a few made for stuffing. Their interior cavities are hollow, much like a bell pepper. In the past few years I have tried a number of these and found them to be unique indeed. While you can hollow out and stuff most large fruited tomato types, the stuffers are so unique and easy they’ll have you adding a new group of recipes to your fresh-from-the-garden summer cuisine.
If you are a tomato aficionado, you should give the stuffer types a try. Most have a hollow cavity although some of the ruffled or ridged types of tomatoes are promoted as stuffers even though they may not have a hollow cavity.
I should also note that the comments in the accompanying chart are taken from the variety descriptions provided by the seed companies. Thus their performance in your Texas garden may vary considerably from the description and claims. Likewise I would suggest you take their flavor comments, like the tomatoes, “with a grain of salt.”
I have grown a few different stuffer varieties in my gardens and done limited observation trials with some of our Travis County Master Gardeners. In my experience the stuffer types, like most heirloom tomatoes, tend to be late season tomatoes (long in days-to-harvest interval). As such they are not as productive as earlier season varieties in our climate.
The plants need a little fertilizer to get started but should not be pushed too hard until they have a chance to set their first fruits, which can take a while. Otherwise you will tend to get vines at the expense of good fruit set.
Start your transplants early and bump them up into larger containers to get a head start on the growing season. Our southern climate brings us hot weather too soon for most late season tomatoes to do their best before rising temperatures hamper fruit set.
I should also add that it is not uncommon for stuffer varieties to be less flavorful than your favorite slicer tomato. However some are quite good and a delicious stuffing tends to more than make up for any lack of flavor. I suggest testing a few varieties in your garden to see which does best for you.
Additional trials will help us determine which ones do best in our climate and soils. No doubt that some readers have tried some of these varieties and can offer additional comments on their performance and flavor. I plan on continuing through the list of available stuffers in the upcoming seasons in search of the variety that works best for me.
While some of the stuffer varieties have been uninspiring as far as flavor is concerned, the trials have renewed my interest in stuffing tomatoes. Most any tomato can be stuffed if you take time to scoop out the interior. Next summer some of my firm slicer types will no doubt end up stuffed with a variety of fillings. Stuffed tomatoes are a wonderfully tasty treat and a real hit for a lunch gathering with friends.
When it comes to tomato stuffings the options are truly limitless. Most folks go with some type of meat salad such as chicken, tuna fish, or deviled ham. I like egg salad with bacon bits. Fruit salads are also very popular. Cottage cheese is another option. The sharp flavors of feta cheese can’t be beat either.
Some garden cooks bake the stuffed fruits like you would stuffed peppers. I find that they tend to fall apart in the process, but maybe I just don’t know how to do it. I will attest to the value of sprinkling cheese on a stuffed tomato and briefly toasting it in the oven to melt the cheese!
Let your creative imagination run and you’ll find a hundred great options. An internet search for “stuffed tomatoes” or something to that effect will load you up on enough recipe options to keep you busy for many summers to come.