Heirloom (Tomato) Heaven!
Have you ever bitten into a plump juicy tomato plucked right from the vine and warm from the sun? Heavenly! There is nothing better this time of year than fresh-picked tomatoes from your farmers’ market. Matched with summer’s fresh herbs like cilantro, oregano and basil, these tomatoes are nothing short of amazing! Full of flavor and texture, these beauties are nothing like grocery store tomatoes. Unlike many commercial tomatoes that are grown for consistency of size and shape, disease and pest resistance, and suitability for mechanized picking, packing and shipping, these tomatoes are grown for taste, especially the colorful heirloom varieties of tomatoes. Luscious heirloom tomatoes are at their delicious best right now.
These are juicy, awe-inspiring beauties with a unique shape, color, size, and flavor, and they’re fast becoming the most popular tomatoes around. No wonder! They actually taste like tomatoes should taste! An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down through several generations of a family because of its valued characteristics, such as flavor, texture, or color. Some varieties have been handed down through the years and cultivated for over 100 years. Each variety is truly unique, exhibiting a special taste, color, texture or shape. Many varieties do not travel well because of their thin skins and have a shorter shelf life than conventional tomatoes and thus are ideally suited to being grown by the small farmer who can quickly bring them to your farmers’ market once they are ripe. And heirlooms are “open pollinated” tomatoes as opposed to today’s hybrids. Types with long histories include Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Jubilee, and German Green.
Taste is the main factor for purchasing heirlooms. They are not always pretty tomatoes, each has a unique form and shape, but the taste will win you over. Slice thick and place on a platter with a little mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil for the classic “Caprese” salad. Cut in half and place directly on the grill or under the broiler for a real treat. This year, with the drought looming over us, you will see higher prices for most produce, but the taste is worth the additional cost.
Here are a few of the most common heirloom tomatoes you’ll see at the farmers’ market:
Brandywine Yellow A rich-tasting tomato and one of the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes because of its shape, size, and smoothness. Flavor Profile: Creamy and rich sweet flavor. Exterior: Bright yellow with interesting form.
Cherokee Purple The Cherokee Purple was originally grown by the Cherokees and has been popular for over 100 years. Flavor Profile: Initial smoky flavor with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Exterior: Round with a dark red skin accented in dark purple or black.
Green Zebra One of the most visually appealing tomatoes with light-green stripes against an amber background at maturity. Its flesh is neon-green, and mature fruits are slightly bigger than a ping-pong ball. Flavor Profile: Zesty sweet taste. Exterior: Green stripes on a bright greenish-yellow background, interior is pale green.
Gold Medal The Gold Medal variety is popular for its appealing taste and look, originating in the Black Forest region of Germany. Flavor Profile: Rich, juicy, super sweet flavor that is low in acid. Exterior: Classic heirloom look with a pink and yellow marbled color.
For Selection and Storage of Heirloom Tomatoes
Look for smooth-skinned tomatoes, heavy for their size, and that softly yield to pressure, but are not mushy. Since heirloom varieties are thinner skinned than other tomatoes, they do not store very long. Purchase them when they are to be consumed within a couple of days. Do not store tomatoes in the refrigerator! The tomato will lose its wonderful flavor. Store them away from sunlight and in a cool location. Place the tomatoes for storage with the stem end facing upwards. This will help to reduce excessive softening and darkening of the tomatoes.