I've seen you at the farmers market, eyeing those fat, apparently ripe beefsteak tomatoes. But as irresistible as they might seem, I'm going to encourage you to wait a little longer. They're not going to be really good until we've had several weeks of warm weather.
Instead, think smaller — as in cherry and grape tomatoes. Partly because they're so much smaller, partly because they were bred for it, these tiny tomatoes get delicious way before their bigger siblings. At this early stage of summer, they're the ones to go for.
As a group, miniature tomatoes are sweeter than the bigger ones. While tomatoes typically have a sugar content of 4% to 5%, cherry and grape tomatoes reliably clock in in the 8% to 9% range.
At one time, the only tiny tomatoes we had available were standard red cherries. They're still around — and pretty good — but in the '90s some Taiwanese developers introduced a different variety. It was called Santa and it's still around and still good too.
From there, things really took off. Today you can find miniature tomatoes in a variety of colors and shapes — red and round, of course, but also golden, green and even purple. Some tomatoes are oblong.
What's the difference between a grape and a cherry tomato? That's hard to pin down. The original grape tomatoes had thicker skins than most cherries, and some eaters said they had a tangier flavor. I'm not convinced the line can be that clearly drawn anymore. Obviously, they can be used interchangeably, if you can't find the one you're looking for.
The one big thing they have in common is that they are reliably flavorful enough to hold us over until really hot weather brings the big tomatoes around.
How to choose: Look for tomatoes that are vibrantly colored with taut, shiny skin. There should be no soft or wrinkly spots.
How to store: These tomatoes, just like the big ones, should never be refrigerated. Chilling tomatoes kills their flavor. Keep them at room temperature.