And the winner is…(drum roll)…Lillian’s Yellow. Last week’s tomato-growing workshop here climaxed with a tomato-tasting of 15 heirloom varieties. Many of the fruits came from Four Winds Farm in Gardiner, which specializes in and, in spring, sells transplants of heirloom varieties.
In order to be semi-scientific about which heirlooms tasted best, I splayed them out on a tray, and as I sliced each variety, we tasted and rated them on a scale of one to ten. Occasionally we went back to tasting prior ones to see if tastebuds were getting dulled or if we had started out setting the bar either too high or too low.
Lillian’s Yellow’s victory, with an average rating of 8, came as a surprise. After all, it was up against Brandywine, which is a top contender in every tomato taste-off. Carolyn Male, in her excellent book 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for American Gardens, describes Lillian’s Yellow as having a creamy-yet-meaty flesh and a deep and complex flavor, “rich, citrusy, yet slightly sweet.” Put more simply, it tastes very, very good. This variety is not high-yielding and the fruit often ripens with blemishes and in odd shapes. Still, on the basis of flavor alone, I’ll be planting it next year.
Brandywine, which came in a close second with an average rating of 7.7, is described by Male as exploding “with flavor, literally assaulting your senses with every bite, and having a depth of flavor that truly matches its century-long heritage.” Brandywine’s close kin, Yellow Brandywine, was no slacker, just missing coming in third. That prize went to the variety Goldie, which averaged 6.7 to beat out Yellow Brandywine at 6.6.
Averages have their limitations. Someone who really, really loved Golden King of Siberia, which most people at the workshop disliked for having a soapy flavor, might bring up the average. One eccentric tastebud would be evident in the wide range of the rating. Here, then, are the average and range of ratings for each of the heirloom varieties that we tried: