The CSA where I work specializes in heirloom tomatoes, meaning they have over 50 different varieties! Somehow I got to bypass the step of digging all the plants into the ground this year, but I’ll never forget last summer’s experience. Planting the 500+ plants that yield the pounds and pounds of fruit proves to be one sweaty workout. All the planting seems worth it though when the tomatoes of all shapes, sizes, and colors start saddling the plants, allowing a different tomato to land in just about every meal of the day.
If you’ve never had an heirloom tomato, strap on your seat belt or pop your kick stand, and ride yourself over to your local farmer’s market. Now. Despite some of the ugly colors they come in (reddish brown, for one), heirloom tomatoes are the best you’ll ever eat. They tend to contain the most flavor of any tomato, and many of the varieties are significantly sweeter too.
The word heirloom can apply to any number of plants. Generally, it refers to a seed that has been passed down through several generations because of the special or notable characteristics it contains. Commercially, the technical definition is an open-pollinated plant that’s at least 40 years old. Then there’s the “created heirloom,” which in the tomato’s case, refers to one that was born from crossing two heirlooms. The seeds then must go through five seasons to officially change from a “hybrid” to an heirloom.
Commercial growers tend to breed special tomatoes for durability, but true heirlooms were bred for their taste. Any vine-ripened, homegrown tomato is sure to surpass one you’d purchase in the grocery store, but heirloom varieties are well-known for being the best. Just like your grandma’s <insert nostalgic food here> recipe, these beauties have proven their ability to stand the test of time.
There are tons of ways to use tomatoes, but in the summer when I don’t always want to do much cooking, simple is the way to go. And with the flavor of heirlooms, that’s easy to do. A little basil, olive oil, vinegar, and S&P is really all you need if you’re a tomato fan. Stick with balsamic vinegar if you have it because balsamic in particular helps to draw out the sweetness of the tomatoes.