This morning I plucked a few early canning tomatoes from the garden. Straddling feral watermelon vines that went berserk while we were at fair last week, I found the first ripe torpedoes of the year tucked down deep beneath the six-foot canopies these parent plants reliably send off each year.
I’ve written about San Marzano Redortas before — they always make my list of favorites — but I’m not sure I’ve ever dedicated a full post to them. It’s an omission no fault their own; for as long as I live I will include a row or three in my tomato patch. As a canning tomato they are unrivaled — sacrificing neither production nor flavor nor texture for any one or more of the others.
Of course, these aren’t true San Marzanos. They can’t be. San Marzano tomatoes are one of hundreds of historical foods with a Denominazione d’Origine Protetta; a protected designation of origin. True San Marzanos are grown in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy and harvested by hand by a generation of contadini — farmers, mostly men over fifty — who are on their way out. True San Marzanos — sweet, flavorful, and meaty — are used by chefs all over the world from Japan to the U.S. to the European Union in which they originate.
These San Marzanos are different. Bred — I presume, from seed of real San Marzanos and another variety or three — in a northern Italian town a full day’s drive from Naples, but just a stone’s throw from the Swiss border. They’re just as meaty and flavorful — some would argue even more so on the latter count — but larger. The official size standard calls for half-pound, four-inch fruits, but that’s always just the beginning here. The earliest, and usually smallest, of their bounty consistently clock in between six and ten ounces each. Later specimens easily reach twelve, fourteen, even a full pound — sixteen ounces — a piece. It only takes a few to make a gorgeous quart of diced ‘maters for the winter, but the plants still set just as many as their smaller-fruited cousin. And, being indeterminate, they do it all season long.
Which means a farm family of four can just about get by the whole year with only a handful of plants; twelve or sixteen total. And I suspect a family with softer hands and less manual labor to go around could do with even fewer. Yet, that flavor! No more full summer days hunched over a boiling pot of blanching water, no more peeling thousands of tomatoes no larger than a baby’s fist to fill just a few jars, no more seventeen bushels to process in two days. Just a canner load full every few days, until the pantry is bursting its seams come the end of September, and then a little shot of the taste of summer once or twice a week until we do it all again next year. There’s no better way.