Jun 07, 2010 07:25PM ● Published by Erin Frisch
Take a closer look at heirlooms
by Susan Nye
It’s summer. It’s the perfect time to get out and explore the countryside. When you are out and about, make sure you pay a visit to the local farmers’ market or a family farm stand. I discovered farmers’ markets when I lived in Europe. Every Sunday morning I spent an hour or two at the market in Divonne, France. It was like shopping in another place and time, before supermarkets and global imports made shopping impersonal. No fluorescent lights, no shopping carts, just the hustle and bustle of hundreds of shoppers crowded into the narrow streets of Divonne’s old town. The stalls were filled with delicious fruits and vegetables, artisanal cheeses, free-range chickens, and wonderful crusty breads. The cast of characters selling their wares, from the jovial farmer to the flirtatious cheese maker and cantankerous baker, only added to the experience.
There are hundreds, and many have fun and funky names!
Aunt Ruby's German Green
A sweet flavor with a hint of spice with light green skin and a dark green interior.
A unique yellow paste tomato.
The “blond head” has a large plant with loads of sweet dime-sized yellow cherry tomatoes with German origins.
Box Car Willie
Red tomato named for the king of the hoboes!
Cuore de Toro
Bull’s heart; a huge, very sweet red heirloom tomato from Italy.
Great full-bodied tomato flavor with light green and yellow stripes adds a unique touch to summer dishes.
A very old heirloom from England with bright red clusters of fruit.
Developed in West Virginia in the early 1930s by a radiator repairman, M.C. “Radiator Charlie” Byles. With no experience, he successfully crossed four large tomatoes and paid off his mortgage selling the seedlings.
Red and yellow striped tomatoes are great sliced or in a tart or salad.
A nice black variety that produces dusky brown fruit.
Stump of the World
Pea-sized red tomatoes packed with flavor.
A very old heirloom, shaped like a watermelon and dark on the outside with a pinkish-red interior.
A very sweet variety and one of the few “white” tomatoes.
Now that I am back in New England, I am a regular visitor to my local farm stand and farmers’ market. Every summer I impatiently wait, along with my friends, family, and neighbors for the season’s first local tomatoes. Not from Florida, not from New Jersey or even Massachusetts, but locally grown, ripened on the vine, handpicked and eaten the same day. Is there anything more wonderful? Well, maybe local sweet corn.
Heirloom tomatoes have been getting lots of attention from chefs and foodies. These beauties have intriguing names like Black Krim, Brandywine, Big Rainbow, White Wonder, Green Zebra, Mortgage Lifter, and Cherokee Purple. They come in all sizes from bite sized to big and beefy. They are short and squat and long and narrow. They are striped and solid, even speckled. They are green and yellow, orange, ruby red and soft pink, purple, and brown. Regardless of how unusual, funny, or strange they may look, they are all delicious.
What makes an Heirloom Special?
So what makes an heirloom an heirloom? Heirloom plants have passed the taste test of time and been passed down from generation to generation, for 50 years or more. Heirlooms are developed over decades in nature, pollinated by birds, bees, and the wind—not engineered in a lab. Seeds are collected and saved each year because their plants produce an abundance of great-tasting tomatoes.
You’ll be hard pressed to find an heirloom tomato in a big super store. Most supermarket tomatoes are engineered to be easy to grow, process, and ship. But not heirlooms. Heirloom tomatoes aren’t grown for packing and shipping, they are grown for eating and providing the lucky diner with a simple taste of heaven.
Celebrate the season, enjoy a summer feast with friends and family . . . and don’t skimp on the tomatoes.
Top 10 Favorite Heirloom Tomatoes 2009*
- Brandywine is a favorite Amish heirloom that goes back to the late 1800s. You can find Brandywines in pink, red, yellow, and black.
- Paul Robeson a great purple/black tomato is a Russian heirloom. Since it originates in a cooler climate, it is a great choice for northern climates.
- Aussie is a large, red, meaty tomato. It is a terrific choice for slicing and sandwiches.
- Julia Child is a robust, deep-pink, beefsteak. It is great for slicing and sandwiches.
- Cherokee Purple has a rich, sweet flavor. Enjoy them in salads or cut in wedges and enjoy with a little salt.
- Black Cherries are irresistibly delicious. Their sweet, rich, tomato flavor will burst in your mouth. Terrific in a mix of colorful cherry tomatoes.
- Kellogg’s Breakfast heirlooms are pale to deep orange beefsteak tomatoes. They are thin skinned with a sweet tangy flavor.
- Gold Medal is a beefy yellow and red striped beefsteak tomato. It has thin skin and sweet, well-balanced flavors.
- Aunt Ginny’s Purple originated in Germany and is an American favorite. The purple/black beefsteak is great for salads and sandwiches.
- 10. Carmello is a French heirloom. These heavy, juicy red tomatoes have a rich flavor that’s wonderful in summer salads.
Summer’s Bounty: Tomatoes Ripe from the Vine
What is your favorite way to eat a tomato? Sliced with just a pinch of salt?
Or do you want just a little more? Try these out...
Enjoy gazpacho for lunch or a light supper. Or serve it with cocktails in tiny cups or glasses.
Makes about 2 quarts
- 1-1/2 lb vine-ripe tomatoes
- 1-1/2 red or yellow pepper
- 4–6 green onions or 1/2 red onion
- 2 medium cucumbers
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1-1/2 cup tomato juice
- Pinch cayenne pepper or 1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce or to taste
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp each Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper or to taste
2. In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, olive oil, tomato juice, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt, and pepper together to combine. Add the chopped vegetables and reserved tomato juice to the bowl. Toss to combine.
3. Purée the vegetables and liquid in small batches in a food processor. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours.
Very simple and very delicious. Serve the pasta with grilled chicken or shrimp for a wonderful summer meal.
Serves 8 to 12
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 pint vine-ripened red and yellow grape and cherry tomatoes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 lb bow-tie pasta
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
- 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
1. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and add to the skillet with the tomatoes. Gently toss to combine. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 minute. Sprinkle with basil and parsley; toss and serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Heirloom Tomatoes and Goat Cheese Tart
Wonderful for a special lunch, appetizer, or light dinner. Try a nice mix of different color tomatoes for a festive dish.
- Flaky pastry (recipe follows)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 5–6 heirloom tomatoes, halved and cut into 1/4-inch half rounds
- 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4–6 oz goat cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1 Tbsp fresh, chopped parsley
- 1 Tbsp fresh, chopped basil
2. Roll out the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface. Line a 10-inch tart pan with the pastry, leaving about 1/4 inch for shrinkage; crimp the edges.
3. Sprinkle half of the Parmesan cheese evenly over the pastry dough. Layer the tomatoes in concentric circles on top of the cheese. Sprinkle the tomatoes with thyme, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle goat cheese evenly over the tomatoes. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the top of the goat cheese.
4. Put the eggs and half-and-half in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Carefully pour the custard around and over the tomatoes and cheese.
5. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let set for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and basil, cut into wedges, and serve.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into pieces
- 3 Tbsp solid vegetable shortening, cold
- 2–3 Tbsp ice water
2. Sprinkle with ice water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, and process until the dough starts to come together in a ball. Remove the dough from the food processor and flatten into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic; chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.