Serving up the Season: Tasting tomatoes at UVM

By Kaitlyn Elias

Kaitlyn Elias is a seasonal staff member for the Farmer Training Program at the University of Vermont. In this post, she shares about a tomato tasting at UVM last month.

Tomatotableheirloom  noun \ˈer-ˌlüm\: a horticultural variety that has survived several generations usually due to the efforts of individuals

It’s a gorgeous August afternoon, just after 12:00 p.m.  Outside of the Bailey Howe Library at UVM sits a white linen-covered table with ice cold beverages, cutting boards, paring knives, plates, and a rainbow of asymmetric tomatoes.

Kodie and Jason, farmers from the UVM Farmer Training Program, are prepared with knives in hand. Each of them chooses a variety of tomato to prep, slices them carefully, and displays the slices with their corresponding flavor profile description. Today’s event will offer members of the UVM community an opportunity to treat their taste buds and expand their palates.

TomatoPosterAt 12:30 p.m., a line of 40 tasters has begun to form. An accordion player serenades the crowd in honor of the tomatoes. The tomatoes and music create an unmatched pair and delightful environment. As each person passes the table, we prompt them to tell us about their favorite tomato. Sure enough, Goldman’s Italian American Brandywine is the winner. This balanced tomato is juicy, sweet, meaty, and contains few seeds. It makes a great ripe slicer and cooks down to a supreme tomato sauce. The tomato is an heirloom of Dr. Amy Goldman, who travelled to Italy in 1999 and returned with seeds that she named after her fathers’ grocery store. The history of this particular tomato variety is still young, but it is part of a practice that preserves tradition, seed viability, and excitement for our taste buds year after year.

TomatoTable3The seeds from heirloom tomato fruits have been preserved by growers for years because of their ability to create large quantities of genetically stable seeds that are identical to their parent plant. The taste of an heirloom is unmarked in comparison with the hybrid tomato, which is the result of cross-pollinating two parent plants. Many growers appreciate hybrids for their uniform size, high yields, and annual resiliency to pests and diseases. However, saving hybrid seeds could eventually result in plants with less vigor and different fruits than their parent plants. This means new hybrid seeds need to be produced by seed companies to ensure desired genetic traits. Heirloom varieties, on the other hand, can be saved by anyone, anytime, anywhere, preserving biodiversity and a seasonal tradition.


Over 100 participants tasted heirloom varieties at our tasting, which was a collaborative event hosted by the Farmer Training Program and UVM Libraries.  The tomatoes came from one of our partner farms, Half Pint Farm, located at the Intervale in Burlington. Their specialty crops can be purchased at the Burlington Farmers Market.

Other tomato varieties served were: Great White, Roman Candle, Eva Purple Ball, Roman Candle, Sudduth’s Strain Brandywine, Black Krim, San Marzano, Valencia, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Indigo Rose, and Marvel Stripe.

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