You know that Sun Gold has to be a fantastic tomato if it’s the only hybrid that a dedicated heirloom guy like Craig LeHoullier will grow.
It’s also the only hybrid tomato that the Raleigh resident has listed as one of the 10 tastiest in his new book, “Epic Tomatoes: How To Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time.”
LeHoullier, a former chemist, is known for searching out, growing and promoting heirloom tomatoes to the wider world. Heirlooms are older varieties such as Cherokee Purple and Green Giant, some going back to the 1800s. They have a range of colors, sizes and flavors. Save seed from an heirloom and you can grow a plant from them that’s exactly like the original. That doesn’t work with hybrids like Sun Gold. Hybrid seeds can change from season to season, so saving the seeds of a hybrid plant never guarantees carbon copies.
Sun Gold, a cherry tomato that is orange when ripe, has a complex, heirloom-like flavor.
“There are few tomatoes with three distinctly different flavor profiles, depending upon how ripe you let Sun Golds get before eating them,” LeHoullier says. “Tart and intense when pale orange, rich and fruity when medium-hued, and as sweet as candy when as ripe as you dare let them get. Each stage is wonderful, and cooks can find great ways to use each flavor profile.”
Carol says Sun Gold is the most consistently delicious tomato she has ever grown. For Debbie, the vivid color is fun to work with in the kitchen.
One thing to watch out for: Unlike most cherry tomatoes, Sun Gold has a tender skin.
“One of the things I remember to do in the summer is, when it’s about to storm, is to pick the Sun Gold tomatoes that are ripe. The skin is so fragile and thin that a heavy rain will make them split,” LeHoullier says.
Sun Gold is easy to start from seed and grows well in containers or the garden. It also tolerates short dry spells.
Plants should be available in garden centers now. For container growing, use 2-gallon pots and well-drained potting soil. In the garden, plant in well-drained locations.
As with all tomatoes, Sun Gold needs full sun for at least 7 hours a day. It’s worth sacrificing driveway space to this tomato, if necessary – that’s where LeHoullier grows his, in containers. Or try a sunny patio.
Add stakes or tomato cages while plants are small, so as not to disturb established root systems later. Plants might get 5 to 6 feet tall in pots, and even taller in the garden.
Pick the tomatoes just before you want to use them. If they need a bit more ripening, place them on one layer on a plate or the counter. Debbie leaves hers on a kitchen shelf, where she can also enjoy the beautiful color. They don’t have to be in the sun.
You should not refrigerate fresh tomatoes, which will stifle their flavors. However, if cherry tomatoes are extremely ripe, you can put those in the icebox if you must, but use them as quickly as possible for the best flavor.
If you get a glut of Sun Golds, cherry tomatoes are the easiest tomatoes in the world to freeze. Rinse them off, let them dry completely and pack them, whole, into plastic freezer bags. If you measure as you pack and write the amount on the bag, you’ll be ready to make soups and sauces later on. Debbie finds that 2-cup bags are good amounts for later cooking.
Sun Gold’s pumpkin-gold color is so vivid, it’s fun to let it pop up in different places in your cooking. Combine them with red cherry tomatoes in salads and salsas. Debbie has even tossed some into the classic Caprese Salad, mixing the small gold halves with slices of full-sized red tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.
This recipe uses Sun Golds in a brilliant alternative to the usual red pasta sauce. It comes from “Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook,” by Miriam Rubin.
Reach Carol Stein and Debbie Moose at email@example.com
Sun Gold Tomato Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups halved Sun Gold cherry tomatoes
8 small, crisp yellow tomatoes, such as Yellow Perfection or yellow pear tomatoes (1 pound), halved or quartered (about 3 cups)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped mint
1 pound cooked orzo, penne or elbow pasta
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the Sun Gold tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly. Cook, stirring and mashing the tomatoes with a spoon, until they are very soft and have cooked down, about 10 minutes.
Put the sauce through a food mill suspended over a narrow pot or press it through a fine-mesh strainer, leaving only the skins and seeds behind. Reheat to serve, stir in the parsley and mint, and taste for seasoning.
Yield 4-5 servings
From “Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook,” by Miriam Rubin (UNC Press, 2013)