In August, our Farmstand is awash with color, in part due to all of the glorious heirloom tomatoes the season has to offer.
Heirloom tomatoes come from open-pollinated cultivars. Open-pollinated plants, also known as heirloom or standard, are varieties that have stable traits from one generation to the next. An open-pollinated seed is distinct from a hybrid seed. Hybrid seeds are the first generation offspring of two distant and distinct parental lines of the same species. Seeds taken from a hybrid may either be sterile or more commonly fail to breed true, not incorporating and expressing the desired traits of the parent. Gardeners are better able to save seeds from open-pollinated or heirloom plants. Check out our tip on Heirlooms VS Hybrids for more info.
Heirloom tomatoes have been selected over the years for their flavor. The word “heirloom” refers to the history behind the fruit, provoking endless images of farmers in their garden taste-testing and then saving seeds from the best tomatoes. Each heirloom variety has a distinctive story, history, flavor and appearance. In general, heirlooms are commonly less seedy, more flavorful and colorful, and sweeter then hybrid tomatoes. Because they have been selected for flavor and not ease of production on a large-scale, they may be more susceptible to cracking and disease while in the field. Heirloom tomatoes need special attention and, for this reason, farmers charge more for them at market. However, we think they are well-worth it and hope you do too!
Below are the main varieties of full-sized Heirlooms that we grow, their characteristics, and a little history. Click through the slideshow above to see what these beauties look like:
Valencia: This is a round, smooth fruit with a brilliant orange appearance. It is a family heirloom from Maine. Some say it is called “Valencia” because it looks like a Valencia orange, while others suspect it came from Valencia, Spain. It is hard to find and is a threatened variety, which is why we love to grow it. The tomato has an excellent and complex tomato taste, with a great balance of acid and sweet. It is meaty and rich with very few seeds. It has been described as bursting with flavor, rich and buttery as well as pineapple-like, sweet and refreshing.
Pink Brandywine: A popular variety among gardeners and cooks alike, this Amish beefsteak-sized tomato has rosy pink skin and an intense tomato flavor. Each fruit can weigh up to two pounds and is among the slowest tomatoes to ripen.
Striped German: A 2013 Tomato Tasting winner! Another large tomato producer with gorgeous bi-color flesh of yellow and pink. It has sweet complex flavors and is meaty and juicy. Many Striped German tomatoes are bumpy or almost ribbed. The name suggests a “Pennsylvania Dutch” or at least Mennonite origin, possibly coming from Hampshire County, West Virginia. We have grown this variety for years and continue to love it.
Cherokee Purple: A 2013 Tomato Tasting winner! This tomato was one of the first to be popular in the “black” color group of tomatoes. It is not only popular for its dark color, but for its unique flavor and dense juicy texture as well. These tomatoes carry a green shoulder across the top and they have a tendency for the seeds to be surrounded by a green gel. The variety was shared by the Cherokee Indians with a gardener over 100 years ago in Tennessee and came onto the market in 1991.
Pink Berkeley Tie-Die: A port wine colored beefsteak with metallic green stripes, these tomatoes have a very sweet, rich, dark tomato flavor with a bit of spice. The relatively compact, indeterminate plants produce 8-12 ounce tomatoes early in the season.
Cherokee Green: Another variety developed from the Cherokee Purple, this variation is a beautiful green and yellow tomato with flesh that resembles emeralds. This tomato is one of the best, most flavorful of all the green tomatoes. It is a great slicer for salad, sandwiches, and will also make a delicious pasta sauce.
Dragon Eggs are a Cedar Circle Farm exclusive. “Dragon Eggs” is a name created by production manager Megan Baxter and hints to the magical array of color that you find in each 2.5 to 3-pound box of selected miniature heirloom tomatoes. After many field trials and taste-tests, we have selected the following tomatoes to be featured as this year’s Dragon Eggs: Black Zebra, Green Zebra, Red Zebra, Indigo Rose, Lime Green Jaunne Flamme, Amy’s Sugar Gem, Yellow Perfection, Pride of Flanders, and Amber Colored.. We sell Dragon eggs in the farmstand and at farmers market. They are ideal for tomato salads as well as gazpacho because you get such a wonderful variety of tastes and colors. Because all of the different tomatoes in the box ripen at slightly different times, they provide you with fresh tomatoes all week.
Below are some recipes that we love at the height of tomato season. But remember, the beauty of heirlooms is that they are delicious all on their own, with a drizzle of olive oil and some sea salt.
Here is a delicious Tomato Salad for warm late summer evenings.
Every year, Farm Manager Will Allen makes huge batches of his famous Fresh Salsa.
One of Farm Chef Alison’s unique creations, we served this Tomato Coconut Soup at our 2011 Tomato Tasting.
Roasting tomatoes brings out their subtle flavors. On a chilly summer night try Roasted Tomato Bisque.
Cold, raw, healthy Tomato Gazpacho is a Spanish, and now local, favorite.
sources: CCF staff, http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/ark_product_detail/valencia_tomato, http://www.vintageveggies.com/information/craig_brandywine.html
photos: CCF staff