This week, the tomatoes are the stars of the garden. There's a great crop of small Porter tomatoes and a fair crop of Romas, all destined for sauce and soup.
Porter tomatoes were developed by a seed company in Stephenville, Texas, back in the 1940s and 50s. According to an article published in The Victoria Advocate (Nov. 11, 1994), Porter and Son closed in 1994 after eighty years of supplying seeds to Texas gardeners--seeds from plants that old Mr. V.O. Porter had bred in his own Texas garden to meet the challenges of our Texas heat and humidity.
V.O. Porter died in 1954, after forty years in the seed business. His son, Gene, continued his father's work until his death in 1990, and Alice Porter took it over after that, closing it in 1994. By that time, small seed companies were going out of business or being swallowed up by the larger seed companies, which usually carry only the plant varieties that are widely adapted and profitable. This consolidation of seed producers/distributors has resulted in an unfortunate corporate domination of the seed supply: Monsanto, for instance, has bought up literally dozens of smaller seed companies, to cut down on the competition. With this kind of dominance, "heirloom" varieties or those that were bred to produce well in a fairly small climate area have become endangered. But there's hope, for the Internet has expanded the range of the smaller companies once again, as I'm sure you know. (If the Internet had been available when Alice Porter closed the family business in 1994, Porter and Son Seedsmen might still be a going concern.)
The first Porter mail order catalog was published in 1912--I'd love to see a copy, so if you know of one, please email me. I've read that Porter specialized in watermelons, garlic (the famed "Texas White," which you can find mentioned in books but seems to have been lost), and tomatoes. But it is old Mr. Porter's tomato that has outlived the original company. Porter bred his tomato back in the days before automatic watering, and it thrives in conditions that daunt most other tomatoes. InThe Advocate article, his granddaughter, Alice Porter, says that her grandfather didn't keep records--he just liked to fool around with plants. "By crossbreeding various varieties," she adds, "he came up with the Porter, which because of the large numbers of small fruit it bore, required less water and would continue to produce right through August and September, even in the driest parts of West Texas."
I can testify to this. Larger tomatoes require too much water and (under the hot Texas sun) suffer sunscald and skin cracking. The little Porters, about the size of a golf ball, are meaty and flavorful. They grow on indeterminate plants that bear generously through the summer. (Determinate plants flower and fruit in a matter of a few weeks.) Most tomatoes don't set fruit after the nighttime temperatures rise above 70 degrees, but the Porters just keep on chugging along, persistantly producing flowers and fruit until frost.
My Porter seeds come from Willhite Seeds, a small independent in Poolville TX, where I buy other open-pollinated seeds for plants that are regionally adapted to our challenging Texas climate.
I just filled the slow cooker with Porters, plus a half dozen fresh bay leaves, onion, and chopped garlic--more herbs will go in later. By suppertime, this will have cooked down to a flavorful sauce. We'll have spaghetti for supper and the rest of the sauce will go on a pizza tomorrow night. We'll be eating Porters, bless 'em, all year long. And bless old V.O. Porter, too--the man who just liked to fool around with plants.
Book report: I'm working on chapters 14-16 in the current Dahlias work-in-progress, scheduled for publication in 2015. I'm aiming to finish in a couple of weeks, to start on another project. I'll have news (exciting news!) of that one soon, so don't go too far away!
Reading note. The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. ― Michael Pollan