Bartlett's Farm Tomatoes!!
~ by Andrew Spollett
August on Nantucket means beautiful beach days, the Boston Pops playing at Jetties beach, and of course, Bartlett’s famous field tomatoes! Our tomatoes truly are a taste of summer on Nantucket, and they are highly prized by our customers. The combination of sea breeze, our well-drained soil and the farming experience of the Bartlett family combine to produce our great tasting tomatoes.
The field tomato production is divided into three groups: large red tomatoes, cherries and grapes, and heirloom varieties. The primary difference between the red tomato varieties and the heirlooms is the method by which they are bred. All the large red tomatoes we grow are F1 hybrids, or first generation hybrids (remember freshman biology?) This means that two distinct tomato varieties were crossed - or bred - together, with the offspring exhibiting traits from both varieties. This breeding technique is utilized by seed companies and agricultural universities to develop new varieties which have superior flavor, shelf-life, disease resistance, and vigor. These hybrid tomatoes are not genetically modified, rather they are created using breeding techniques that have existed for hundreds of years. GMO crops actually have their DNA altered in a lab setting, using viruses to vector traits into the plant’s genetic code. Traditional plant breeding intentionally crosses two varieties together to yield a new variety, utilizing the plant’s natural reproductive functions.
Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated, which makes them inherently different from hybrid tomatoes. The term “open-pollinated” refers to the natural method of pollination, where insects and weather are responsible for the pollination of flowers. This means that a plant’s traits are established and maintained over time: rather than crossing two varieties together as with hybrids, open-pollinated tomatoes are stable from generation to generation. Therefore, seeds from open-pollinated varieties can be saved for next year and the trait of the tomato will be true. Saving seeds from hybrid tomatoes will not yield the same desirable traits in the next generation.
My favorite tomatoes that we grow are the Sweet Orange cherries because they have an intense flavor and high acidity. My favorite red tomato is called Celebrity, which is a medium sized tomato with a beautiful globular shape and deep red flesh and it’s excellent for both eating fresh and making sauce. I also love the Green Cherokee, Brandywine and Great White heirlooms, which all have very complex flavors. I use the heirlooms to make caprese salad with the Maplebrook burrata, Farm-Grown organic basil, and a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. August is primetime for our incredible tomatoes, try a new variety that you haven’t tasted before and let me know what you think!