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Jul 24, 2010 08:40 PM

Where to get home-grownish tomatoes?

I don't buy grocery store tomatoes. Even the ones at Central Market for $3-$4/lb aren't that great. I want sweet and tart and rich tomatoes like those that came from my grandfathers farm in the 70's. The ones you eat like apples with a little garlic salt on them. Some beefsteaks or ugliripes... something meaty.

I can't really get to any of the farmers markets on Saturdays before they close, so I'm looking for anything but farmers markets (the one time I did I ended up with supermarket tasting tomatoes for some ridiculous price anyway). Is there a store/stand/farm that's open more frequently? Reasonably priced, too. Tomatoes should not cost $3/lb.

TIA, -sw

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  1. i hope you get some good replies, because i've been wondering the same thing.
    my problem is i'm NW, so my options tend to be even more limited.

    1. Well, there is a farmers market at the Triangle on Wednesday from 4-7 and Boggy Creek is open Wednesday mornings from 9-something.

      Not sure just where you are going to find tomatoes sans farmers other than for the obvious suggestion to grow them. Doing so might get you the particular variety and taste you like if you or a family member knows what your grandfather grew. (Assuming that he grew them in a climate somewhat like ours. If he was in Michigan or Ohio, you are out of luck) The growing might also give you a hint as to why vine ripened, local tomatoes are not available for $0.97/lb. If the tomato is shipped from Florida or California, it was picked green. If it is grown on 1000 acre plots anywhere it is likely to be a variety bred for handling, not flavor.
      I grow my own because it gives me the varieties I like and I can manipulate the environment to produce a bit earlier than most local farmers are willing to do. On the other hand, I doubt that they cost me less than $4.00/lb if I have to figure in the taxes on the land and my labor. FWIW, most of the local growers who sell at farmer's markets are quite helpful in identifying the varieties they grow, so if you find something you like, you could try it in an "earthbox" or the like.
      Good luck.

      6 Replies
      1. re: akachochin

        I forgot about the Triangle. I'll remember that next time I'm out on Thursdays (It's 3 hours there and back for me as I'm in San Leana and don't drive). And I didn't know Boggy Creek was there so close to where I used to work. That's easy to get to.

        So you're saying to can't grow tomatoes as good here as you can in Pittsburgh? Say, beefsteak tomatoes, for example.


        1. re: sqwertz

          The Triangle Farmer's Market is on Wednesday evening from 4pm-8pm.

          I think we've missed tomato season here in Texas. And, I think it's a little too hot here for some varieties. The tomatoes I bought when I lived in NYC were better than the ones here (though the tomatoes I bought Saturday were very good) and the farmers market was open more days for more hours and I didn't have to drive...sigh. But there are lots of great things here too! Maybe just not tomatoes.

          1. re: sqwertz

            My experience is that you cannot reliably grow market quantities of the very dense, beefsteak-style tomatoes in Central Texas. There are some growers of heirloom varieties selling at the markets in Austin whose offerings approximate the varieties that thrive where the days are longer, the nights cooler, and the rain more plentiful. As an example, I grew a couple of Italian Giants this year on a lark. True to form, they made 8+foot tall vines, drank gallons of water, and made about 7-9 large fruit apiece. The Celebrities next to them produced around 40-50 fruit each and the Valley Girls even more. The latter seems to be able to take more night time heat than the former and is one of the more common varieties grown by local market growers.

            Partial compensation is that we can get our first vine ripened tomatoes about two months before the Ohio River valley and eat our last ones fresh from the vine at least two months later. If you are careful about your choice of varieties and plantings, you can get tomatoes just about any time from early May until November except August.

            1. re: akachochin

              And the reason tomatoes are so expensive here and tend to suck is it's the wrong soil and climate for them, too hot and too dry, and on the west side of town you have limestone a few inches under a layer of topsoil, on the east side, black clay. Not a lot of nutrients like you get up north in a true temperate zone. I miss Jersey tomatoes, but lately I've found some pretty decent ones at farmer's markets. I've tried growing tomatoes - back home, you spit a seed on the ground in the Fall and in the spring you have a farm. Doesn't work that way here.

              South/Central Texas growing season is split, and shortened, you have to plant early, mid march, and again in september after the august heat and drought are over. On the other hand, it's HEAVEN for cheap melons of all kinds of varieties because it's hot enough to grow them well.

              1. re: wbohrer


                I live on the West side and can't stick a fork in the "soil" (whatever clay the original builder put down under the sod) without hitting solid rock. I tried a garden by bringing in a yard of good soil from Natural Gardener, but not matter what I do or what varietal I plant, they don't produce well if at all. Suggestions? My garden gets direct sun. When I was a bit further South on clay, I had no problems.

                1. re: tummoi

                  Try an Earthbox. I have a couple, work great for me.

        2. Two summer's ago, I got some "Dirty Girl" tomatoes (dry farmed Early Girls) at Whole Foods downtown. They were exactly as you describe. One of the best tomatoes I've ever had. Last summer they had them in; but I missed them. They only come in in August; and they're so popular that they quickly sell out. I suggest calling the produce department and asking about them. I can't remember how much I paid for them; but they were expensive.

          Also, I went to The Sunset Valley farmers market yesterday. Very few vendors had tomatoes. I managed to get some though. They're very good. I'd try checking out The Triangle as acachochin suggested.

          1. Wheatsville CoOp on Guadalupe buys local produce and the tomatoes that I find quite acceptable, almost as good as the ones from Boggy Creek Farm in East asutin and not nearly as expensive.

            You're going to pay at least 1.99 to 2.99 for vine ripe local tomatoes. I won't eat anything else, not worth polluting my body with crappy tasting food.

            1. Update: I have been buying the Campari tomatoes at HEB for the last month. They are $1.99-$2.39/container (a little over a pound)) and are consistently the best tomato at a good price. I've bought about 2 containers a week for 5 weeks - that's about as much as I've spent on store-bought tomatoes in the last 3 years. Highly recommended.


              4 Replies
              1. re: sqwertz

                sqwertz, now i feel bad for not posting my go-to grocery tomato.

                they are hydroponic, and believe it or not, sometimes HEB tries to charge more than $5 a container (which is less than a pound, when you factor in all those vines they include).
                that being said, i only buy them when they are under $2.99 a container OR when i am totally desperate for a recipe for someone else.
                i love this size and shape, plus the flavor and aroma is usually as good as it's gonna get for store-bought.

                usually, i slow-roast them overnight in a 200 degree oven and use them in recipes.
                i make this baked sandwich thing and take it to work, which my team loves.
                lately, i've been experimenting with seeding the flesh beforehand, because they are awfully seedy for small tomatoes.

                1. re: dinaofdoom

                  Would you mind sharing more about this "baked sandwich thing"? I got some grape tomatoes at Boggy Creek Farm last week that were not so sweet - planned to roast them and make a bread of some kind, but haven't done it yet.

                  1. re: Allison L.

                    you will need the following, and the measurements are all to preference:

                    1. good loaf of bread sliced in half lengthwise (i use pan frances from HEB, and it 's a good size and shape, and holds up well.)
                    2. oven roasted tomato halves to cover the bottom half of the bread (i seed them before and skin them after, and don't season them. if your tomatoes are big, i would say quarter them.)
                    3. pesto to spread on the top half of the bread (i use the buitoni reduced fat. if you use something else, skim the oil off so the pesto is nice and thick but not greasy.)
                    4. fresh mozzarella slices to cover one half of the bread (i buy a log of it and slice it, but you can buy the other sizes like boccacini, etc. and slice.)
                    5. thinly-sliced proscuitto (i use about 1/8 a pound for each loaf, and you can sub other cured meats or omit.)
                    6. condiments to finish, such as balsamic, and freshly ground salt and pepper

                    here's how i assemble:
                    put a great big sheet of tin foil on the counter, enough to wrap up the loaf.
                    put the bread down on it, pull the halves apart so the bottom is closest to you.
                    put the tomatoes on the bottom half and smush them into the bread a little.
                    spread the pesto on the top half, and arrange the mozz slices on top of it.
                    drizzle a little balsamic over the tomato-y half, and use any salt and pepper over both halves now.
                    be careful w/ the salt if you are using cured pork products.
                    layer the proscuitto on top of the tomato-y bottom, and shred it into pieces to make sure there will be enough in each bite.
                    the tomato half is easier to flip over then the mozz half, so working from the bottom is better.
                    bring the two halves together and tightly wrap with tin foil.
                    press and pat the wrapped loaf a bit between your hands to make sure the halves meet well.
                    throw it in a 250-300 degree oven for 10-15 minutes to warm it up a little.
                    you can slice it into small pieces, or let people slice their own.

                    sometimes i sub various flavors of alouette or boursin for the pesto, use various thinly-sliced cured meats, and switch up the types of balsamic.
                    the tomatoes and fresh mozz are a constant.
                    i usually make this the night before, keep it in the fridge, and throw it in the oven right before i take it to where it's going.

                    1. re: dinaofdoom

                      Thank you! That sounds so good - and very much like a sandwich I had in Boston at Salumeria Italiana. They drizzle the most wonderful balsamic over your basic caprese on focaccia. Gotta make this soon!