One of the great things about summer are all of the colorful fruits and vegetables. And ranking at the top are the bright and colorful heirloom tomatoes.
What is an heirloom tomato?
An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of it’s valued characteristics. Since ‘heirloom’ varieties have become popular in the past few years, there have been liberties taken with the use of this term for commercial purposes. At TomatoFest Garden Seeds we chose to adopt the definition used by tomato experts, Craig LeHoullier and Carolyn Male, who have classified heirlooms down into four categories:
- Commercial Heirlooms: Open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940, or tomato varieties more than 50 years in circulation.
- Family Heirlooms: Seeds that have been passed down for several generations through a family.
- Created Heirlooms: Crossing two known parents (either two heirlooms or an heirloom and a hybrid) and dehybridizing the resulting seeds for how ever many years/generations it takes to eliminate the undesirable characteristics and stabilize the desired characteristics, perhaps as many as 8 years or more.
- Mystery Heirlooms: Varieties that are a product of natural cross-pollination of other heirloom varieties.
Heirlooms are hard to find, even when they are in season. But one place where I have always found them recently is Trader Joe’s. They have them in a mini size at a reasonable price. And they are not mushy; they are very firm. Also, the flavor varies from the savory Black Cherry to the tart Green Zebra. So on Monday night, I went to Joe’s to pick up a carton and waiting right at the door was a whole display of basil plants. At $3.99, I couldn’t pass up grabbing one to use with my tomatoes. I could already see…and taste, a great heirloom tomato salad with fresh basil and a balsamic garlic vinaigrette. I thought about adding small, creamy fresh mozzarella balls but I didn’t want to add more fat or salt to the salad. I love a good Caprese salad but I just wanted to focus on the flavor of those tomatoes.
In addition to mozzarella, I could see adding some sautéed shrimp or scallops to this salad. Fresh parsley, oregano or mint would also be good compliments.
I also like to saute the tomatoes with oil, fresh herbs and garlic and toss with some pasta.