Tomatoes are in the heir

Published 6:19 pm Monday, July 21, 2014

Talk to local tomato growers at the Saluda, Columbus, Tryon and Landrum farmers’ markets about what’s taking root from their fields to our tables.
At this time of year, talk to them about the traditional heirloom tomato.
They are happy to remind us that the round, red and almost flavorless grocery store tomatoes have long suffered from the genetically-modified concessions made from factory farms to the produce aisle.
They also often taste bland because they are picked green and then gassed to ripen which strips them of their lycopene and vitamins.
They will tell you that heirloom tomatoes are an entirely different experience, both in taste and nutrition.
They come from seed that is at least 75 years old, in thousands of varieties and colors.
They will invite you to witness over the coming weeks the tomatoes that are allowed their full time on the vine and how they become more acidic and tastier as the season develops from summer to fall.
You will see and taste for yourself tomatoes that are purple, white, black, brown, green and striped; shapes and colors that contrast markedly from their commercial cousins.
Heirloom tomatoes fall into varieties that include the following: (adapted from Local Palate Magazine)
Purple Cherokee:
Named from the Cherokees who had the original seed, its distinctive deep reddish purple coloring with green across the top makes it stand out.
Striped German:  A favorite varietal of the Mennonites from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in the mid-1800s.
Mortgage Lifter:
Originating from central Appalachia, this varietal is characteristically pink and brought in good revenue for the cultivator, hence helping with house payments.
One of the more popular beef-steak shaped heirlooms, this pink tomato is noted for its potato-shaped leaves, which are oval and smooth.
You will decide, perhaps be reminded, that nothing has quite the flavor of a fresh, locally grown heirloom tomato.
Jeff Allen, local food author will tell you, “Red tomatoes are higher in acid with a sharper bite.
Yellows are highest in sugar making them taste the sweetest.
Pinks blend the acid from the red and sweetness from the yellow.
Purples are sweet with an earthy flavor.
Green tomatoes are firm, dry and sour in taste.  But at least they still have taste.”
Which leads to MY personal favorite, “How in the world to use up all these tomatoes” summer-time dishes.  Gazpacho, Salsa, Ratatouille, Tomato Pie, and let’s just go ahead and meld the old WNC stand-by cornbread (leftover if that’s possible) and the new-old heirloom tomato, otherwise known as Panzanella Salad, southern style.
A liquid salad of pulsed tomatoes, cucumber, onions, garlic, celery and bell peppers with Mediterranean seasonings and salt and pepper to taste.
A pureed combination of tomatoes, jalapeno, garlic, shallot, onion, bell pepper, cumin and added bonuses like whole black bean and corn kernels.
Ratatouille, a Spanish-influenced summer-time stew with tomato, eggplant, squash and zucchini, bell peppers, thyme and marjoram often served over rice or pasta.
The classic tomato pie with homemade mayonnaise, layers of fresh basil and aged cheddar or fresh mozzarella cheese.
And Panzanella; making use of day-old cornbread cubes, fresh tomato, cucumber slices, shaved parmesan or asiago and a Dijon and honey-based vinaigrette.

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