August 21, 2015
Brandywine, Pineapple, Striped German, Berkley Tie-die, Kelloggs Breakfast, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Wapsipinicon Peach…there are more varieties of heirloom tomatoes than there are feet in a mile, each one boasting its own distinct pattern of color, shape, and style. These alternately succulent, meaty, sweet, zippy, juicy, savory, indulgent varieties of tomato are passed down from generation to generation – the royal family of the produce world. At their peak in the height of summer (let’s live it up while we can!), these delicate beauties are harvested when ripe – not picked hard and under ripe, forced to soften off the plant like conventional slicers. While they take a bit more care in handling, the payoff is more than worth the investment. Once you go heirloom, you’ll never go back. We promise.
Heirlooms can be classified into four different categories: classic, family, created and mystery. Classic heirlooms have been accessible to the public for at least 50 years, while family heirlooms are just that – tomato varieties cultivated by one particular family that have developed their own distinct character through the generations. Created heirlooms are a cross between two existing heirlooms (a process that can take as long as 8 years!), while mystery heirlooms (oooh, spooky!) are the product of natural cross-pollination – an unpredictable process by which a batch of seeds you thought was one tomato, grows to be another never-before-seen one!
Over the past 50 years, farming communities have seen many heirlooms lost as more and more family farms give in to pressure from commercial farms and replace their coveted, but somewhat testy, heirloom varieties with commercial manufactured varieties that sacrifice taste in favor of productivity and disease resistance. Though these hybrid varieties do offer the standard appearance and extended shelf life that modern retailer favors, they fail to deliver in taste or texture. In fact, many would argue that these cardboard-like tomato imitations shouldn’t even be considered a tomato at all.
Heirlooms can be used like you would any tomato – but are best served in their full glory: simply and raw. These tomatoes are picked at full maturity so that their flavor and texture are at their peak, so be sure to treat them carefully and never store them below 50 degrees.
Grilled Heirloom Tomato & Pesto Pizzas
Note: you can find burrata cheese in most grocery stores in the cheese section. If you can't find it you can substitute fresh mozzarella. Burrata cheese is very soft and will not slice well. Just add the creamy chunks to the salad!
Photos credit: BHG.com and leafandgrain.com
heirloom tomato, tomato, summer, produce, fruit, cooking, grilling, recipes