Go off to your farmers’ market and there they will be. You can rarely get a beefsteak tomato in a supermarket. The beefsteak is what grocery and produce retailers would call a destination item, IF they could get them to market and keep them safe before sale. But, they can’t; the beefsteak is too big and too much trouble keeping in one piece for tomato picking machines, supermarket truckers, and grocery handlers. So it’s off to the farmers’ market for the beefsteak tomato.
The beefsteak is more than variety of tomato; it is many varieties (dozens) and a class of tomato. Beefsteaks are one of the largest varieties of tomatoes growing. You might find one beefsteak–that’s one tomato–plumping in at more than 2 pounds (1 kilogram). I just brought in three small to medium-sized beefsteaks and they weighed in at just a bit less than 3 pounds.
But the beefsteak is not about poundage, it’s about eating. Beefsteak tomatoes are meaty and tasty in an old-fashioned tomato flavorful way. The beefsteak is the tomato for your tomato sandwich, BLT, or picnic-sized hamburger. The beefsteak is perfect for your stand-alone tomato side dish: slice, lightly drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle to taste with sea salt and shredded basil, and serve.
The beefsteak tomato comes in a rainbow of colors: red, pink, yellow, orange, green, and purple-black for starters. Beefsteaks aren’t round; they’re fat and saucer-shaped in a squatty sort of way, or weigh. Obolate might be one descriptor for the beefsteak.
Slice a beefsteak and you will find a tomato filled (filled!) with lush seed cavities (many). There’s no core like you might find in smaller slicing tomatoes. The beefsteaks’ seedy interior maze is Byzantine but an architecture of amazing strength. The beefsteak is made for slicing and eating raw and staying together.
Varieties. What beefsteak to buy? Well, taste around until you find the one or ones for you. ‘Big Beef’ is a great beefsteak, flavorful and consistent. The heirloom beefsteak ‘Brandywine’, pink or yellow or purple-black tops many tomato flavor lists. ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Black Krim’ are purple beefsteaks of the tomato pantheon. ‘Basinga’ and ‘Hazel Mae’ are yellow and mild flavored.
‘Beefmaster’, ‘Big Bite’, ‘Heavy Weight’, ‘Goliath’, and ‘Watermelon’ are descriptive names of beefsteak varieties. ‘Celebrity’ is a popular beefsteak. Of course, the best beefsteak for storytelling is ‘Mortgage Lifter.’ The story: During the Big Depression, a West Virginia farmer by the name of Mr. Byles was about to lose the farm. Farmer Byles crossed several fat beefsteaks until he came up with a new beefsteak variety so big and so flavorful that his tomato sales paid off the mortgage, the ‘Mortgage Lifter.’ Now, that’s a tomato!
Choose. Look for beefsteaks that are firm but give to gentle pressure and are smooth-skinned. Avoid any tomato that is too soft, wrinkled, has a broken skin or is blotchy colored. The beefsteak does not need to be refrigerated. If it’s a tad green, it will ripen on the counter at room temperature.
Size is not the end all with beefsteaks. A flavorful beefsteak that is easily managed is palm-full and will weigh 8 to 12 ounces.
Eat the beefsteak raw and sliced on sandwiches and hamburgers. Dice the beefsteak for salads or salsas or to top chili. The beefsteak can be broiled or grilled or stuffed or used in stews or casseroles or gumbos and jambalayas.
How to grow. As for growing: the beefsteak requires upwards of 90 days to maturity; yes, that’s a quarter of a year, so the beefsteak is not a short-season crop. Tomatoes demand warm to very warm weather with the optimum temperature between 65ºF and 85ºF. Get a jump on the season, by starting beefsteaks indoors 10 to 12 weeks before planting out. The soil must be fertile and well drained; work in plenty of well-rotted manure and compost to the planting bed in the fall. Keep the soil moist during the growing season; don’t over water or water from over head. When your beefsteaks are ready, use a garden scissor to harvest them, give them a light rinse, and serve.