The Heirloom Tomato

Published 2:28 pm Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Talk to local tomato growers at local 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 they’ve 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.

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Heirloom tomatoes fall into varieties that include the 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.

The Striped German is a favorite varietal of the Mennonites from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in the mid-1800s.

The Mortgage Lifter originated from central Appalachia. This varietal is characteristically pink, and brought in good revenue for the cultivator, hence helping with house payments.

The Brandywine is one of the more popular beefsteak shaped heirlooms. This pink tomato is noted for its potato-shaped leaves, which are oval and smooth.

Our local farmers can tell you of all these things, but you will decide for yourself, once you’ve sampled them all. Nothing has quite the flavor of a fresh, locally grown, heirloom variety tomato.

A summer-time ripe tomato sandwich:

– Toast a good quality bread, brush with extra virgin olive oil.
– Rub a crushed garlic clove across toast.
– Liberally spread with a homemade or favorite mayonnaise.
– Lay tomato slices on one side of the bread. Salt tomato to taste.
– Slap the two sides of sandwich together, lean over kitchen sink, and savor each drizzly summer-sunshine bite.