On a recent walk through my favorite of all greenhouses in the world, Harvey's in Adel, Iowa, I was browsing the tomato selection, looking for nothing in particular. Not because I needed more tomatoes but because.....well.... I was there! So long story short, I'm browsing..... passing over cherry tomatoes of numerous kinds, yellow pear tomatoes, Romas, beefsteaks, nothing really jumping out at me, mostly since I really didn't have any more space to plant something and I began to make my way back to the exit. There, snuggled up between the Mr. Stripey and Yellow Boy was the Holy Grail of Tomatoes- the San Marzano.
Now, if you are even remotely familiar with Italian cooking, tomatoes, Romas, or anything vegetable history wise, you get it. This. Is. A. Big. Deal. After all, Romas are a genetic descendant of San Marzano tomatoes, which are the standard by which all cooking tomatoes are measured! Ok, I might be exaggerating a little there but you get what I mean- this is exciting!! San Marzanos are thought to have been brought to Italy in the 1700s and grown for many, many generations.
What makes this tomato so special? Everything! It has a much thicker, meatier flesh than even a Roma tomato. It has a very small seed area and very few seeds. This means more tomato pulp per tomato. They are sweeter, making them an excellent choice for sauces, and tomato paste. They have a "bigger" tomato flavor than other tomatoes and with a thicker flesh, that means less water, less cooking down to get a nice, thick finished product. They are an heirloom tomato, obviously, if they've been around since the 1700s......and open-pollinate, so you can save your own seed for next year and get true San Marzanos again- not some weird golf-ball size tomato, like modern hybrids give you. And get this- if you want to make a TRUE Neapolitan pizza, only San Marzano tomatoes are considered acceptable- very interesting.
It's very very early in the garden season here, so you will have to stay tuned to see how my little San Marzanos grow and turn out. I have 4 perfect little plants nestled into their summer homes, now it's up to Mother Nature to do her thing.
*photo courtesy of Wikimedia