We grew three types of paste tomatoes this summer in our Connecticut garden, to compare how they produced and how resistant they were to disease. We bought our Roma seeds from Stokes Seeds and our Opalka seeds from Jung. We bought an Amish Paste tomato plant from Vermont Bean, as a grafted plant. Connecticut tends to have damp, humid summers with periods of heat approaching 90. The humidity makes it difficult to keep some plant diseases at bay.
Both the Amish Paste and the Opalka produced larger fruit. While there were plenty of smaller Roman tomatoes on the Roma plants, the Romas turned out to be much more susceptible to Septoria Leaf Spot, and thus the fruits were smaller on many of the plants. Both the Amish Paste and the Opalka were more disease resistant: with the Amish Paste bigger and the Opalka enormous. Many of the Opalka tomatoes seemed to be “doubled,” almost as if there were two tomatoes together.
Historically, Opalka seems to be the oldest, having originated in Poland in about 1900. They are indeterminant, meaning that they keep growing and don’t all ripen at once. We grew ours in a tomato cage, but you could stake them instead.
Roma tomatoes are descendants of Italian plum tomatoes, but were further bred at the US Agricultural Station in Beltsville, MD to be more resistant to verticilium and fusarium wilt. The varieties available now are called Roma VF. They are a smaller tomato and are determinant, meaning they all ripen at once and don’t keep growing. They are open pollinated and not considered an heirloom. Usually you grow them in cages. While they are wilt-resistant, they seem to be really prone to developing septoria leaf spot, and all our efforts to keep these plant leaves from browning were unsuccessful.
Amish paste tomatoes were commercialized in 1987 from seeds obtained from Amish farmers either in Lancaster, PA or Wisconsin, depending on who you read. They are also determinant and somewhat larger than Romas. We found that they varied a bit in shape, with most fruit the typical plum shape, but others rounder and only slightly elongated.
We grew all three this year to see which were most productive, disease resistant and flavorful in our southern Connecticut garden. In terms of disease resistance, both Amish paste and Opalka did a lot better than our Romas, and while this is but a single data point, we are leaning towards switching to the former two for next season tomato sauce canning.
In terms of flavor, the Romas were the least flavorful and most sour, the Amish paste considerably more flavorful, and the Opalka the sweetest and most flavorful. We’ll certainly put in more Opalkas next year, even though they ripen the slowest. They also keep producing over a longer period.