The Wonderful World of Heirloom Tomatoes

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


  • 1 pound frozen whole wheat or white pizza dough, thawed
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons prepared basil pesto
  • 1 pound mixed heirloom or other seasonal tomatoes, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
  • 3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese


  1. Divide pizza dough into 4 equal balls.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball out to a rough circle about 9 inches in diameter; brush each side of the circles with olive oil and place on baking sheets.
  3. Prepare a grill for medium heat cooking.
  4. Working with one piece of dough at a time, place it on the grill rack and cook, rotating the crust frequently with tongs to help it cook evenly, until darkly browned on the bottom and air bubbles form on top, 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Transfer browned-side up to the baking sheet; spread the browned side with 2 tablespoons pesto.
  6. Top with a few slices tomato (don't cover the entire surface or the pizza will end up soggy), sprinkle the top with â…› teaspoon each salt and pepper, and dot with goat cheese.
  7. Slide or lift the pizza back onto the grill, close the grill cover and cook, rotating the pizza every now and then, until the bottom is deeply browned and the cheese begins to melt, about 3 minutes.
  8. Slide or lift the pizza back onto the baking sheet.
  9. Repeat with the remaining dough.



Tomato, Peach & Burrata Salad


  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut into pieces
  • 2 large peaches, cut into pieces
  • 6 ounces burrata cheese, cut into pieces
  • 3 tablespoons freshly chopped basil


  1. To make the balsamic reduction, pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer, swirling the pan occasionally, until reduced to about half of the original amount, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, place the tomatoes and peaches on a platter or plate. Top with burrata cheese chunks and basil.
  3. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the salad and serve.

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: and

Posted by:
Emily Kohlhas

heirloom tomato, tomato, summer, produce, fruit, cooking, grilling, recipes

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