I am always seeking out and rediscovering the foods that seem to have become lost in this world of mass-produced … well, produce! Like many people, I have found that a jaunt to my local grocery produce isle can be a trip to blandsville. The shelves are packed with fruits and vegetables perfectly shaped and shimmering with manufactured indoor mist—beautiful to look at, but hybridized to the point of dullness.
My first stop? Tomatoes. The French call them “apples of love;” the Germans, “apples of paradise.” Most of us now know them as limp, watery slices on sandwiches, as oversweetened components in ketchup, or, at their worst, as pallid wedges on the dreaded “house salad.” So has this fruit had its day? Not if you look in the right places.
The tomato kingdom is ruled by heirlooms, sweet surprises to the palette that are distant cousins to supermarket offerings. The existence of heirloom tomatoes isn’t news, but their proliferation is—this year, farmers around the country are sharing and swapping seeds from vintage varieties in record numbers—and that’s what makes them my favorite Foodimentary Find for summer. Now there are hundreds to choose from, and a weekly visit to your local farmers’ market can yield a pretty bounty straight into late fall.
Heirloom tomatoes, like wine, benefit from their vintage. They’ve been around long enough to develop meaty textures, perfectly imperfect skins, and unmatched (gasp!) flavor. Vine-ripened varieties come in colors ranging from bright green to fluorescent orange, in sizes ranging from tiny grape to stout 5-pounders.
Here is a short list of types and some Foodimentary Facts about them:
Brandywine considered an “original” common variety grown for hundreds of years by the Amish. Red to pink color when ripe.
Cherokee purple a sweet, purple-hued variety originally grown in the lower Appalachian region. Thought to have been an American Indian variety, hence the name.
German Johnson a plump pink variety found in the Tennessee region. Known for its meaty texture and uniform 1-pound fruits.
Azoyochka a bright-orange, tart variety great for canning and mixing with other heirlooms in salads. Its heirloom seeds have made it all the way from Georgia—the Eastern European country, that is.
Now I’m ready to introduce my heirloom tomatoes to some thick, salty bacon and crisp lettuce—because a supermarket BLT is no match for a farmers’ market BLHT!