If you have never tried an heirloom tomato, you are missing one of the finer things in life. I’ll take an heirloom over a dollop of caviar any day. Heirlooms come in hundreds of varieties and colors. The taste of each type varies with the acidity content of each succulent fruit. (You probably already know tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable.) It was classified as a vegetable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893 based upon its use in mostly savory dishes and not desserts. This also avoided the tariff on fruits being applied during this time period.
Heirloom tomatoes are almost here!
When the Florida days get this hot and the nights aren’t much relief, I take solace in the fact that soon summer will be winding down and the fall harvest will begin. The end of August and the beginning of September is the time to eat tomatoes. In fact, it’s the only time to eat them fresh from the vine. Cooking an heirloom will just ruin it.
Tomatoes were introduced in Europe in the late 1500s as basically an ornamental plant. People were convinced they were poisonous and were afraid to eat them due to their close resemblance to the deadly nightshade plant. The plants were brought to America in the late 1700s, again as a decorative plant. It wasn’t until Thomas Jefferson began serving tomatoes to visitors at the White House (around the same time he introduced Americans to ice cream) that people here started to eat them with more frequency.
Some of the more interesting varieties of heirlooms include the Cherokee Purple (discovered over 100 years ago by the Cherokee Indians), the Black Krim (named after the Black Sea of Russia) and even the Florida UglyRipe. Most folks who try heirloom varieties are impressed by their unique flavors full of acidity tempered with a rich, sweet flavor. Some people are more interested in the stories of where the different types originated. Each historic seed stock has its own pedigree.
Locally, you can find heirlooms at The Fresh Market and Whole Foods Market. King Farm Myakka in Bradenton raises organic heirlooms and sells most of what they grow to the public. Their phone number is 941-773-1624.
In serving heirlooms, simplicity is key. Slice up a few different varieties (the different colors make a beautiful presentation) and simply dress them with sea salt, a little drizzle of olive oil and maybe a chiffonade of basil. I also like to make a tomato and avocado salad this time of year with bite-sized pieces of both fruits, a couple of pinches of chili powder, some thin-sliced red onion, sea salt and olive oil.
I hope you’ll give these a try. Once you do, you’ll be hooked on them. You can thank me later