Thursday, August 8, 2013

Veggies of the Month: Chocolate Beauty pepper and Moreton tomato

The Veggies of the Month for August are special in two ways. First, there are two of them, and second, they're the first veggies/fruits of the month to come out of our own garden.

As you may recall, my Gardeners' Holiday post a week ago included a picture of our first full-sized tomato of the year, a Moreton. This is a variety developed at Rutgers back in the '50s that eventually fell out of favor because it was too soft for commercial use. A few years ago, however, Rutgers resurrected the breed as part of an ongoing quest to revive "the old time Jersey tomato." The attached article refers to it as "the July 4 tomato," but that sounds like a bit of an exaggeration to me; ours first started producing right around the end of July, which is still plenty early. Since then, we've harvested a total of three.

Then, just a couple of days ago, we harvested our first pepper of the season. It's a variety called Chocolate Beauty that we picked up at the Rutgers plant sale last May after determining that the pepper plants we'd attempted to start from seed just were not going to make it. You can see from the photo where it gets its name, as it does indeed have a rich, chocolately brown hue with just a hint of red. (This one is more of a beauty in the photo than in real life, however, as we turned it so that the tiny insect hole on one side isn't visible.)

But never mind how they look; how do they taste? Well, both the tomatoes and the pepper went into a small pot of chili on Tuesday night, so their particular flavors were a bit hard to discern in the mix. However, I made a point of snitching a small fragment of each one to taste before they went into the pot. The Moreton tomato tasted...well, tomatoey. I really can't think of a better way to describe it. It wasn't particularly sweet, or particularly acidic, or particularly anything; it just tasted like the basic, Platonic essence of tomato, through and through. And the Chocolate Beauty pepper, despite its appearance, didn't taste a bit like chocolate: it tasted like...bell pepper. Really, I do wish I could come up with a more vivid description, but that's the honest truth; it just tasted exactly the way you expect a bell pepper to taste.

On one level, it's a bit of a disappointment that these two notable breeds—an heirloom pepper and a vintage hybrid tomato—don't have more distinctive flavors that I could wax lyrical about. After all, what's so exciting about home-grown produce if it just tastes like what you could buy at the supermarket? But on the other hand, I guess there is something to be said for consistency. True, this may not be an extra-special tomato or an extra-special pepper, but it is just what you expect from a tomato and just what you expect from a pepper. They may not be more striking in any way than a supermarket tomato and a supermarket pepper, but they can give you everything you'd want from a supermarket tomato or pepper, with the added bonus of being fresh-picked and free.

So would I grow them again? Well, it's too early to say. Since neither of these varieties seems to have anything special to recommend it in terms of flavor, it's a question of yield—of quantity rather than quality. The Chocolate Beauty has given us only one pepper so far, and it did suffer a bit of insect damage, so I'm not sure it will end up being a great producer. But the Moreton tomato is producing sound, unblemished fruits, and producing them well ahead of our Brandywines and Ramopos—so if it can keep on giving good yields throughout the rest of the season, I think it's well worth keeping in our tomato lineup.
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