The Glorious Flavors, Colors, and Shapes of Heirloom Tomato Season
This past weekend was the first big day for heirloom tomatoes at the Greenmarkets. These tomatoes have intriguing names like Black Pineapple, White Beauty, Italian Heart, German Stripe, and Green Zebra. I was lucky enough to be spending the day at the Ft. Greene Greenmarket last Saturday, and so I was surrounded by these plump, gorgeous beasts. Between the tomatoes and the sweet corn, this is my favorite season at the markets. It’s the one time of year when veggies do not go bad in my crisper drawer. They’re lucky if they make it home from the market without being eaten up.
I wrote about the tomato samples from Wilklow Orchards last week. I had the chance to chat a bit more with farmer Albert Wilklow of New Paltz, NY at the Ft. Greene Market. He says that not only are we having a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes this season, but the relatively low rainfall levels mean that the tomatoes, melons, and pretty much all other vegetables and fruits have more intense flavors than usual. When there is a lot of rain, it stands to reason that the flavors are watered down. Have you tried this season’s peaches? Case and point.
Sustainable agriculture experts Gary Ibsen and Dagma Lacey of TomatoFest.com define commercial heirloom tomatoes as varieties that have been in circulation since 1940 and before. Varieties that have been passed down for generations are also considered family heirlooms.
We’ve grown so used to seeing perfect red orbs in our grocery stores. They look great, but I stopped eating them years ago because they taste like they’ve been strip-mined somewhere in Texas (thank you for that image, Garrison Keillor). They are mushy, spongy, and watery. They aren’t tasteless though. They taste like bitter sadness. And they don’t rot on your counter; they mummify.
So it is a great pleasure to pick out heirloom tomatoes in all their misshapen glory. Mere adjectives are insufficient to describe the array of flavors because they are extremely diverse, often subtle, and usually surprising. I bit into an heirloom yellow cherry tomato from Tello Farms, which was tangy and sharp. Then I popped a chocolate cherry tomato, which was much darker and smoother, with a softer skin. The colors are remarkable. There are bright reds, pinks, oranges, corals, yellows, purples, greens, browns, and even more shades of all these colors.
Try a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes from the markets this week. Slice them all up and serve them up with just a sprinkle of sea salt. Then close your eyes and savor the flavor of this abundant season.
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