In the early heirloom discovery days of farmers market tomatoes, growers often kept different varieties in separate piles and sold them for different prices (actually some still do). They were banking heavily on what they hoped would be a designer label approach. But where good summer tomatoes are concerned, that can be a lot of extra work for not much return, especially in the peak of the season. Which would be now.
Today volume is king and tomatoes are usually comingled in giant, sunset-hued piles of Pink Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, Golden Jubilees and baskets of sweet-tart cherry tomatoes. A seasoned eye can spot the favorites, but finding something new can be a bit of a challenge, especially when a Pineapple beefsteak looks almost exactly like a Hillbilly (or a Rainbow or a Mr. Stripey). That's not an issue with the Indigo Rose, which when perched on top of a mixed basket of other small tomatoes at Finley Farms, immediately caught our attention.
The Indigo Rose is a true purple tomato. The Cherokee Purple -- and other black and purple varieties -- have what's called the green flesh gene. It keeps the chlorophyll present in the fruit from breaking down, which, when mixed with the red coloring of most tomato varieties, produces a dark brown nearly purple hue as the tomato ripens. The Indigo Rose's purple coloring comes from anthocyanin, the same flavonoid responsible for the purples we find in berries and purple basil. When ripe, they can be as black as some eggplant varieties -- or patched with streaks of purple, depending on how much sun the fruit received. In fact, if you buy a basket of Indigo Rose tomatoes and you want them all to have a uniform dark color, just set them out in the sun for a spell. They'll darken up wherever the light hits them.
The plant breeders up at Oregon State -- specifically Professor Jim Myers -- were aiming for a high anti-oxidant tomato. While the anthocyanins deliver the healthy punch, they do nothing for the flavor. In fact, the taste is that of a well-balanced, slightly sweet tomato with a juicy center. The fruit is about golfball-sized and when sliced open, the flesh is the color of a bright red-orange sunset, which contrasts nice with the blue-black skin.
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One nice bonus with the Indigo Rose -- and let's give the team up at OSU a nice pat on the back for this one -- is that it's open pollinated. That means if you save the seeds, you can grow your own Indigo Rose plants next season and have them produce true to type. No weird hybrid monsters or patent-crazy hurdles to overcome. They meant it to be a home garden and small market variety, and they're working on more.
Flora Bella Farms will have them through the end of summer. You can find them at the Hollywood Farmers Market on Sunday and at both the Wednesday and Saturday Santa Monica markets, both of which you can find on our shiny new interactive farmers market map.
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