We start our own tomato plants because we are a little finicky about varieties. For example, we like Prudens Purple as our best tasting tomato. It is the same color and taste as its more famous cousin Brandywine but a little smaller and less misshapen or prone to splitting. Biggest plus, it comes in a few weeks earlier.
For a good looking tomato about the size and color consumers find the most attractive (we are still influenced by our years of growing for Farmer’s Markets) we use Celebrity. This is a (ALERT the following information may be shocking to purists!) hybrid (there I said it) that ranks in taste with most of the heritage varieties but has a real advantage in having a high degree of disease resistance. There are reasons that hybrids replaced a lot of the heritage varieties and it isn’t only greed of the seed companies, disease played a huge role.
For paste tomatoes we long ago left Roma in the dust. We have used San Marzano as a main crop and Bellstar for an early one. The new variety we are trying this year is Opalka, also a paste tomato, and if it is as good as the catalog says and performs well, may challenge San Marzano for a spot in the lineup.
For an early tomato we use Red Alert, but I could be convinced there is a better one and next year the new tomato trial may be an early one. It is a determinate cherry type that comes in early but poops out when others start coming in.
Red Fig is our choice for a main season cherry type tomato which this is that size and good for salads and eating out of hand, like with pretzels while driving and trying to make some time and not stopping for lunch. Needless to say, it is not cherry shaped but looks like little figs and I like the novelty of it. Very prolific.
Interesting side note: Finding the links to these varieties in the two catalogs I order from, I can’t find Red Fig. It was planted out of a leftover packet from the previous year and has been rotated out of the catalog I originally ordered it from. Which happens. I had to Google to find a new source.
If I could only have one tomato it would be Rutgers as it is only a little less tasty than the best heritage tomatoes and also great for canning, i.e. almost as meaty as a paste tomato so we always grow some of those.
We also grow a tomatillo which can be considered a tomato and as it has the same cultural requirements. For use in salsa and even soups.
If you can have more than one, as we can, there are hundreds of great varieties to choose from and the list of what we grow is not meant to be at all definitive. These are tomatoes that have done well for us in our climate. Every year we try a new variety or two just to see what is out there. Many we no longer grow are great tomatoes but we already have a similar tomato and try to keep the variety count down as it is real easy to start having too many and then get confused as to what is what.
So we have an early and main season variety of three categories — paste (Bellstar,San Marzano) , cherry (Red Alert, Red Fig), and fresh eating (Pruden’s Purple, Celebrity, and Rutgers). We also try a new one every year (Opalka this time around).
We used to grow an orange or a yellow one but no longer do for reasons that may not be that important but it really depends on what you like.
So hopefully this is of some help. Just beware of catalog fever, the irrational January desire to order and grow more tomato varieties than you can possibly deal with. I have had it several times. :-)