With names like Rocky Top, Charger, Sakura Honey, Sweet Million and Big Daddy, it’s hard to tell what kind of food tasting event was happening Wednesday at the Penn State Cooperative Extension’s horticultural center off Franklin Farm Lane.
Turns out, it was the 12th annual Tomato Tasting Day sponsored by the Franklin County Master Gardeners.
A steady crowd of “passionate” tomato tasters had made its way around the tables halfway through the event, tasting 31 varieties of the multi-colored fruit.
“We do this for several reasons,” said Steve Bogash, event organizer, tomato grower and horticultural educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension.
“First, we do it for all these tomato people here. They have a real passion for tomatoes,” he said as he asked the crowd of tasters and master gardeners to raise their hands if they were passionate about tomatoes.
“And two, people really love to come out and taste the different varieties, especially the new kinds,” he said.
Bogash said the event always features new varieties with names like BHN 967 and BHN 1021 as well as old standards like the Big Daddy and Brandy Boy red slicers and the Sweet Elite grape tomatoes.
Although pretty much anyone can stick a tomato plant in the ground, it takes considerably more effort to grow healthy, ripe delicious tomatoes.
“It takes work,” Bogash said. “Coming up with a pail full of good looking, healthy tomatoes is hard work.”
That’s where the event and the Master Gardeners come into play. After a taster completes his mystery samples and ranks and grades them on flavor and aesthetics, the gardeners provide a breakdown of each variety, its category, origin and even some background on how to successfully grow the variety.
The suggestions range from when to plant, proper soil, its resistance to cracking and whether it can be grown indoors as well as out.
The Panzer, for instance, is a large greenhouse-friendly red slicer that is resistant to TSWV and yellow leaf curl.
The Golden Sweet is a grape tomato grown in clusters and has a mild, sweet flavor.
The Black Cherry, on the other hand, is a variety of colors like olive and rust, and produced fruit during last year’s humid winter and well into the hot, dry summer.
Despite the varieties, none of the tomatoes offered Wednesday had overly impressed Bogash or one of the participants.
“Nothing is knocking my socks off,” he said after getting through about 20 of the varieties. “Not sure why, but nothing’s really doing it for me so far.”
For first-time attendees Sharon and Bob Hunt of Fayetteville, Pa., the event was great.
“Very interesting. I loved the purple ones. They would look beautiful in a salad,” Sharon Hunt said.
“I never knew there were this many kinds of tomatoes,” she said.
Bob Hunt said he was still searching for one to knock his socks off, too.
“There was only one that really tasted like what I remember as a typical summer tomato,” he said.
The event also included a largest tomato contest and a salsa contest. One of the offerings in the latter was a mango salsa made by Barbara Petrucci of Chambersburg. It included mango tomatoes, yellow and orange peppers, and a hint of lime and spearmint, she said.
A second tasting event will be Sept. 11 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the horticultural center at 181 Franklin Farm Lane.
For more information, go to extension.psu.edu.