Produce Profile: Grape Tomatoes Get The Job Done

Do you pass on grape tomatoes in favor of more exotic fare? If so, you may want to reconsider growing this tasty, versatile garden crop.

by Lisa Munniksma
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Grape tomatoes never were my favorite. Give me a candy-like Sungold cherry tomato, a small Green Zebra slicing tomato or a Cherokee Purple heirloom. Grape tomatoes, though, I had no time for until a farmer friend told me she cans hers.

I thought that sounded terrible, having to peel all those tiny tomatoes. It turns out, you don’t peel them at all. You put them right into the food processor, peels, seeds and all. Cook them down a little, and can them just like usual.

With the right variety, you don’t even know the peels are in the mix. I tried this method for the first time last year, and I have to say that, after canning the same amount of tomatoes in half the time as usual, I may never go back to canning big reds.

What Are Grape Tomatoes?

The popularity of tiny produce has taken off in the past decade. Whereas vegetable varieties used to be selected for hardiness or flavor, we now want our veggies to be cute, too.

Among the small-tomato types, grape tomatoes generally grow to 1 to 2 ounces in weight and 1 to 2 inches long. They come in red, green, yellow and striped varieties, making for an interesting jar of canned tomatoes, if you wish to mix and match.

There are many varieties of grape tomatoes, including open pollinated, heirlooms and hybrids.

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I’m partial to the Juliet hybrid variety for my newfound quick-and-dirty canning purposes. They’re sweet and juicy for fresh eating, too.

Other varieties you might consider include Cherry Roma, Riesentraube, Green Grape and Yellow Jelly Bean. Look through a few catalogs, and you’ll find a few to plant.

How to Grow Grape Tomatoes

Like any tomato, grape tomatoes do well started indoors. Seeds generally germinate within a few days to a week. And grape tomatoes will be ready to harvest in two and a half months or so, all depending on the variety.

Transplant seedlings outdoors after the chance of frost has passed. Put them in a mostly sunny to full-sun place in your garden, about 2 feet apart, or in a pot on your patio. If you’re lucky enough to have a high tunnel, grape tomato plants can thrive there, too, beginning in the middle of spring.

Keep them watered but not drowning, and be careful to not splash water on the leaves. Mulch the plants with straw or grass clippings to prevent rainwater from splashing soil (and pathogens) onto the leaves. Serious growers may use plasticulture here.

Grape tomato plants can be determinate or indeterminate. Your preference may determine the variety that you choose. Both will need some supports, as the fruits grow in clusters, get heavy and weigh down the plants.

Pick the tomatoes as they mature, and remove damaged or diseased tomatoes from the plant to help the plant regenerate new fruits and also reduce the spread of the disease.

How to Eat Grape Tomatoes

With canned grape tomatoes, I really can’t begin to list all of the cooking uses you’ll have year-round. If for no other reason, it’s worth it to grow grape tomatoes just to pull out a jar to eat in February.

It’s winter as I write this—gray and rainy, even—and I recently enjoyed my canned grape tomatoes in a pumpkin chili, shakshuka (Mediterranean baked-egg dish), simple pasta sauce with loads of garlic that I also grew, and an African-inspired sweet potato stew.

You get by now that I’m a fan of canning these little ones. While I’m waiting to collect enough for canning in August and September, I also have to eat some unpreserved.

Fresh grape tomato recipe options yield enough variety that you don’t have to eat the same thing twice in a week. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Halve them and toss with quinoa, avocado cubes, corn cut from the cob, salt and lime for a summertime flavor extravaganza.
  • Put one each on a toothpick with a small mozzarella ball and large basil leaf for mini caprese-salad snacks.
  • Throw them into your gazpacho.

Cooked, grape tomatoes make for simple summer meals. Roast them in the oven with garlic and olive oil, and combine with fresh pasta. Thread them onto kabob skewers with your favorite grilling meats or veggies. Bake them into a focaccia.

Continue brainstorming your summer grape-tomato meals until it’s time to harvest these sweethearts. You’ll be ready for dinner by then.

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