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What has happened to our tomatoes??
I was raised in Windsor, Ontario and I remember the fantastic, ripe, sweet, beefsteak tomatoes we had 20 years ago. Now everything we get which resembles a tomato has a solid, cardboard tasting interior if it has any taste at all. Even the Roma tomatoes in the wintertime which used to be the only respite for tomatofanatics like me are a pale imitation of real tomatoes. We can get them in Europe-why not in Ontario??


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  1. Tomatoes sold at retail in North America are bred for shipping. Most are picked hard green and then flooded with ethylene gas to turn them red for sale.These are too awful to even discuss.

    Even organic tomatoes and "heritage" varieties that were picked ripe and are sold at the fanciest grocers have this characteristic. Last month I got a box of heritage tomatoes grown by Cookstown Greens (one of the highest end produce growers) and sold at Harvest Wagon (Toronto's most reliable, and most expensive, produce store). Even these had very little taste.

    For a few weeks in August and September, some really delicious tomatoes appear at some farmers markets. But you can't ever count on it. Many of the most reliably delicious cherry tomatoes (e.g., sweet 100/sweet one million) are too short lived and fragile to survive the rigours of retail. This year I didn't find any full size tomatoes that were especially good.

    As to winter, the Muir Glen brand of canned tomatoes is quite good.

    5 Replies
    1. re: embee

      i thought it was just me!

      a year back i grabbed some heirlooms from phil's and was terribly disappointed. they practically tasted of nothing and i couldnt' fathom why i would hear raves from so many other people/places. beautiful but empty.

      1. re: embee

        Unfortunately Muir Glen is no longer sold here. I contacted the company to confirm that it was not just a shortage. They didn't explain why they stopped. Pretty sad, their charred tomatoes were great for Mexican dishes.

        1. re: KitchenVoodoo

          Are you in Toronto? I hope not. These had been available almost everywhere.

          1. re: embee

            Apparently they didn't want to bother with the bilingual labeling required in Canada. It really is too bad, I loved their fire roasted tomatoes.

        2. re: embee

          Gotta grow them yourself, or beg from your European neighbours. Otherwise, fagetaboutit.

        3. Try the tomatoes at the fruit and vegetable stand on the west side of Keele just north of Steeles.

          1. I don't know the answer to your question but I can tell you that a month ago, I was at JKWB. Perched on a stool at the kitchen bar, we watched the chef slice tomato after tomato for their salad of tomato with fresh pecorino and basil dressing. They were heirloom tomatoes, grown in Jamie's garden apparently, and each one was more perfect than the one before - you could see how wonderful the colour and texture were. We started our meal with an order and enjoyed the taste so much that we ordered another plate later on. Perfectly simple but truly spectacular.

            1. I got some really tasty field tomatoes at the city hall market last week. I have found this year that the field tomatoes were excellent but the beefsteak and larger heirlooms didn't really make the grade.

              Two years ago I met a cab driver who was driving a cab on weekends in Toronto and farming tomatoes during the week. Needless to say I held the poor man captive for a good hour with tomato questions. Bottom line was sun and rainfall, the field tomatoes required less than the larger variety beefsteaks and heirloom which take longer to ripen. I got some excellent Roma tomatoes for canning about the second week of September this year, a taste of summer in February.

              Best advice: eat local, eat seasonal. Eat loads of tomatoes NOW, but it pretty much over and the only tomato marginally worthwhile until next August is the grape tomato. I have learned to appreciate the wait and the bounty when it arrives.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Mila

                I see that you allude both to "field tomatoes" and "beefsteak" tomatoes. In my local shop downtown, "field tomatoes" have been readily available this summer but I've not seen anything called "beefsteak". Would some shops use the same name for both? It's late in the season, I know, but where would I go to find "beefsteak" as opposed to "field" - that is beefsteak which are grown outside and not in a hothouse?

                1. re: ER2

                  "Beefsteak" tomatoes are the super large ones. They too are "field" tomatoes in that they are grown outdoors, not in a hothouse.

                  All you can buy at this time of year are hydroponic fruit grown indoors. The quality seems to be a function of distance to market. Essex county hothouse tomatoes can be decent for that reason. The good ones are a deep red, somewhat yielding, and heavy. But no way do they approach summer fruit. The worst ones have that waxy, semi-transparent finish and dry, mealy innards. Avoid anything from overseas or the US. They are what's left in a boxcar travelling north picked god knows when.

                  I'll be looking for decent tomatoes in Leamington at roadside stands this weekend. But I'll also be visiting the Heinz employee warehouse with relatives for some canned fruit.

                  Here is an item of interest relating to fresh tomato commerce.


                  1. re: DockPotato

                    I still dream of the ultimate beefsteak tomato. Here is a picture of what it should look like compared to the regular round field tomatoes.

                    I am travelling east this weekend and will check all my usual roadside stands and see what pops up. There may be some final gems still out there.

                    Square tomatoes make me sad.

                    1. re: Mila

                      "Square tomatoes make me sad"

                      Yes. Just as saddening is mechanical harvesting for industrial late tomatoes - more green bits and pith, and less sweetness and flavour in all canned product.

                2. re: Mila

                  here, here. I couldn't agree with you more about local produce. I, too, re-discovered the sweet fragrance orbs this year. I found some beautiful cherry tomatoes at the City Hall Market (vendor on the east side). But after spending $10 a week for three weeks this August, I realized the vendor was sliding in some of the rotten ones in between to bulk up his offering. I gave him the benefit of the doubt the first two weeks and after the third week, I decided to stop purchasing his tomatoes. At 3 half pints for $10 - it was too expensive to be throwing away 12+ rotten cherry tomatoes each week. I just went back to the north market at St Lawrence on Saturdays to satisfy my tomato cravings. And as a regular patron of farmer's markets, it is the rare day that I have had to throw away more than a very pieces of produce. It's too bad really. I would have gladly accepted less tomatoes in the half pint versus digging out the rotten ones.

                  But I digress... I think tomato season has slipped past us for the year. Last week, I did see too much on offer, although the squash and apples are now in full swing.... I took up canning this year and put up several jars of roma tomatoes -yum. It is a great way to savour summer flavours when it is cold and dreary outside.

                3. We grew heirloom tomatoes for the first time this summer. The yield is small, compared to san marzano's and cherries, and the flavours can be quite delicate depending on the type, though some are bold and unique. They are best appreciated without a lot of accompanyment. I tried store-bought and they were less flavourful.

                  The beat-up looking field tomatoes seem to have the best flavour of all the summer offerings at grocery stores.

                  In the winter I find that the best fresh are ususally the cherries.

                  For canned plums over the winter I can recomment Vitale, they are typically fully ripe, flavourful, and packed in strained tomato sauce.

                  1. This year seemed to be particularly bleh for tomatoes. I didn't find any heirlooms that were anything more that OKish. I think it was to hot-cold-hot and not enough consistent rain for really good tomatoes this year.
                    ...ah well, an off year every once in a while makes us appreciate the good years even more...

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: TwinklyTerrapin

                      Squirrels ate *every* non-cherry tomato in my garden while still green this year (and most of the piddlingly few sweet 100s too) (downtown Toronto) - a few plants in marginal soil at a secret location in Mississauga proximal to a leaky water pipe had fantastic yields and no rodent issues. Never had squirrels going after tomatoes before! At least the crop from the secret spot was satisfying.

                      1. re: TwinklyTerrapin

                        I totally agree with you - tomatoes have been pretty bad this year. I picked up some heirlooms from Pusateris in July and August, and while they looked gorgeous, even they tasted like cardboard. The closest thing to a real tomato I've had this season were a pint of something called Campari tomatoes I found at the grocer in early September. It wasn't quite as good as the tomatoes we get from my boyfriend's sister in law's Greek family, but still better than anything else I've had all year.

                        1. re: mochapj

                          When the "Campari" tomatoes first appeared in the supermarkets a few years ago, they blew me away. They were ripe, tasty tomatoes that put other supermarket tomatoes to shame. Not freshly picked from my own garden, but damn good and worth their premium price (more than double the cost of other tomatoes).

                          That was then. These now come in several sizes, and also in organic and heritage varieties. But having established their brand (I believe it is called "Sunset"), the quality has lapsed.

                          Since they are greenhouse grown under controlled conditions, the quality should be reasonably consistent. I'm glad you got a good package, but we've stopped buying them and now deem them a ripoff.

                          1. re: embee

                            Man, here I was thinking it was just me! I didn't find a single solitary tomato that tasted of anything this year. (My own container crop failed miserably.)

                            To top things off, at the St. Lawrence market, where I expected people to be knowledgeable about the products they were selling, I was unable to get any accurate information. I was looking at tomatoes advertised as "field tomatoes" so I asked what variety they were, and was told "field". (?) When pressed, people at two different stands said that they were beefsteaks (which is what I wanted, but they quite simply weren't). What is up with that?

                            So is the conclusion that this was just a bad tomato year, or do I have to move back to Quebec (where I got consistently good tomatoes from the Jean-Talon market) for years?

                            1. re: pouletsecret

                              This summer was a particularly dry one. We had probably less than inch in our area from mid june to 2 weeks ago! The results for our local market gardeners was pathetic. Good tomatoes were hard to find and had great, pithy centres. They looked good but just weren't right. The corn was not the best either.

                              Conditions were better, but not by much,with the larger producers in Essex/Kent, but they can irrigate.

                              However there is a gowing problem in that region: glass has largely supplanted field crops. The size and number of hothouse operations is truly stunning.

                              Field crops have fallen into shorter and shorter supply on retail shelves.

                              1. re: pouletsecret

                                From the Foodland Ontario website:

                                "Popular Ontario field tomato varieties include Sunrise, Pik Rite, Mountain Pride, Pilgrim, Red Star and Ultra-sweet."

                                I doubt that the farmers even identify the types of field tomatoes when packed and shipped. The average consumer doesn't even care. They have never been to a farm, much less grown their own.

                                Heck, for years I thought all tomatoes were the same size and were only sold in groups of four in a plastic tray wrapped in cellophane.

                                1. re: Scary Bill

                                  But that's what's so weird to me. At the Jean-Talon market, when the real field tomatoes come in, you're buying them from producers who know what they're talking about. That said, half of the vendors are importers, so they can't tell you, but they're selling, you know, bananas and mangoes, not sweet corn and ground cherries.
                                  So who is actually representing at the market? I know the peach vendors I talked to all knew what they were doing, but tomatoes? Peppers? Forget about it.
                                  Sigh. Next year, I'll have my own community garden, with any luck.

                            2. re: mochapj

                              mochapj, here's my advice: If you're picking over tomatoes at Pusateri's that appear gorgeous, first remove them from the 'tomato-lighting' display and take them to a window. You will then see the true colour. The lighting there, and at many places, gives the appearance of richer hues. Once you've seen the colour use your nose. If the aroma doesn't intoxicate you, put it down.

                          2. Thought this was the Ontario board. I'm not visiting the Granville market anytime soon!

                            Yes, growing your own is best, but anywhere in Canada is dependent upon the vagaries of summer weather. This year in southern Ontario was not a great tomato season. Too much rain. I had commercial, heritage, and Siberian varieties and none of them produced as expected this year.

                            And what do you do from November to July?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: torontovore

                              I use an Aerogarden kit for lettuce, herbs and cherry tomatoes during the winter.
                              In supermarts, or fruit markets, I always press the flesh of anything that might be hard-bred, such as peaches, pears or tomatoes. If there is any sweet juicy friut inside, the surface skin will yield.

                              The one type of greenhouse tomato that tastes good over winter is Campari, from Kingsville, ON. Loblaws carries it, and it is usually richly coloured and tasty.

                              1. re: jayt90

                                At this time of year, my favourite tomatoes are from the S. SL market, the large fruit and veg vendor in the centre of the basement. I like their cherry tomotoes on the vine. I think they're from Israel, although that doesn't seem right. They're so sweet and juicy that it does not seem possible that they could travel that distance and still be so good. They're crazy expensive, but worth every penny IMO.