When most people hear the word “heirloom”, the image that comes to mind is of some ancient family relic, passed down and preserved intact from generation to generation. It implies something precious, something that carries with it the history of all those who have had a hand in its upkeep – heirloom tomatoes are exactly that, just a lot tastier. Over the years, many tomatoes have been bred to be a consistent size, shape, color, and even weight. While this has made for tomatoes that always look lovely and uniform on a grocery store shelf, that prettied-up exterior often hides a bland, mealy interior with all the tomato flavor of wet socks. Too long have our caprese salads and our tomato-topped burgers been stuck in this tomato purgatory, we say no more!
The real difference between heirloom tomatoes and conventional tomatoes goes down to the genetic level; basically, it all starts with the seeds. Heirloom tomato seeds are saved with each harvest. By doing this, the farmer can select specific qualities of the plant they would like to preserve and weed out qualities that are not so pleasant. Oftentimes, these seeds are passed down through the generations, resulting in tomatoes that carry with them the best qualities of tomatoes past. This practice has helped to create an almost overwhelming diversity of heirloom tomato varieties, though unfortunately many have been lost through the years as well. Another factor in the heirloom-ification of tomatoes is how the plants are actually pollinated. Commercial tomato-growing operations often rely on technology to pollinate their plants, resulting in tomatoes that will develop predictably into the desired size and shape for selling. Heirlooms, on the other hand, require open pollination! Open pollination can come from bees, other insects, human hands, or nothing more than a breeze, but the result is profound; instead of hundreds of identical tomatoes, you get tomatoes that are entirely unique, sometimes to the point that they can be considered a new breed! It’s this diversity that gives heirloom tomatoes their special spark and keeps us coming back for more every summer.
Each variety of heirloom tomatoes offers something slightly different in flavor and each will shine brightest in a certain kind of preparation. Whether it’s more acidity, more sugar, or a color that just can’t be beat, there’s an heirloom tomato variety to suit every dish and pallet. This week at Oliver’s, we’re happy to be offering California-grown organic heirloom tomatoes at just $2.99 a pound – here are just a few of the varieties you can expect to see in the mix!
Orange & Yellow
These bright and attractive yellow-orange tomatoes have a rich aroma when sliced; they are very meaty and usually have very few seeds. Try using them in a uniquely colored sauce or toss them with golden beets for a cheerful summer salad.
We like to think these tomatoes would be Captain America’s favorite, but that’s just us. Marvel Stripes offer a mild, sweet, and somewhat fruity tomato flavor, and they shine brightest in fresh preparations. We love them with creamy slices of avocado and good balsamic vinegar.
Brandywines (Red, Vintage, & Yellow)
These tomatoes set the industry standard for heirlooms, and it’s no wonder, considering their seeds go all the way back to 1885. The fruits grow in clusters of one and two and ripen late, but they are well worth the wait. Ripe Brandywines feature a fine, sweet flavor that translates perfectly to fresh or cooked dishes equally.
Taking their name from the Native American tribe with whom they’re thought to originate, Cherokee Purples are actually more of a dusky pink color. The interior is a deep red, and the flesh is sweet and firm – perfect for slicing! These babies are best prepared simply so their flavor and color can really shine.
A European favorite, Rosso Bruno tomatoes are perfectly round with a rich, dark color. They boast a superior texture and a delicate sweet-tart flavor; at peak ripeness, they are dark red and low in acid. Quarter them for salads or simply slice them in half and enjoy them with a little salt and black pepper.
Green Zebras are one of the most attractive of the heirloom varieties, given their striking colors – bright chartreuse is shot through with lime green stripes, hence the name. The flesh is meaty and rich with a sharp, acidic sweetness. Try them for a uniquely colored sauce or roast them for a delicious fresh salsa.
These heirloom cherry tomatoes are bursting with sugary sweetness! Sweeties grow in long, pendulous clusters that continue to produce right up to the first frost. They have a bright scarlet color when ripe and an incredible, true tomato flavor. We like to eat them whole, and they make an awesome addition to a summer veggie tray!
Gold Nuggets are particularly rich in flavor when ripe, making them fantastic for snacking. Use them to add a pop of color to a salad, or throw them into warm pasta with a little garlic and basil for a delicious and fresh dinner. These gorgeous nuggets also come with the added benefit of being split proof, so no need to worry about your tomatoes going bad quickly!
Grape tomatoes have a dense flesh that lacks the wateriness of a cherry tomato, so don’t worry about an accidental tomato explosion on your favorite clothes. They’re low in calories but high in vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, and lycopene – the ultimate super-snack! Throw them in a pan for a delicious and healthy, fresh tomato sauce or simply pop them in your mouth whole.
That’s just a slice of all the beautiful and gosh-darn-tasty heirlooms out there! Stop by Oliver’s this week and experience all the possibilities these heirloom tomatoes hold.