Heirloom Tomatoes

by Staff on August 17, 2014

Virginia Heirloom TomatoesAugust reminds me of the part of the summer when my mother used to treat me to a tomato sandwich.  I know that sounds strangely simple in this age of fast food smorgasbords, but a tomato/mayo sandwich on fresh bread… tomato still warm from the garden… is a cherished memory that I can still taste and smell in my mind.  Those tomatoes were nothing at all like the ones in our supermarkets.  They were heirloom tomatoes.

Most of us are familiar with the term “heirloom” as it applies to fruits and vegetables.  As the name suggests, heirloom produce has its origins in the past.  And when we want to choose heirloom products, how can we know which products qualify as “heirloom”?

Technically heirloom varieties are non-hybrid tomatoes, passed down through generations, and they tend to be distinctive for their superior taste and flavor.  Heirloom fruits and vegetables were mainstays of gardens prior to the modern age where we need to ship produce thousands of miles from its source … so the modern hybridized versions need to withstand the bumps and temperatures of shipping.  Heirloom produce just was bred to taste good.  Often at farm markets you can find bins of tomatoes labeled ‘heirloom’ but that doesn’t do much to identify exactly what those tomatoes are.

So as a shorthand to heirloom tomatoes, here’s a brief overview of some varieties that qualify as heirloom:

  • Big Rainbow - This one is gold and red bicolor, with a mild flavor but lots of texture.
  • Brandywine – This tomato comes from the Amish.  It’s pink-ish red and has the huge flavor of an ‘old fashioned’ tomato.
  • Black Krim -  A medium sized tomato of the beefsteak variety that gets deep maroon red when ripe.
  • Evergreen – This one is juicy, bring a napkin.  When it gets ripe, it’s green with yellow highlights.
  • Green Zebra – This tomato is sweet, with green and yellow markings.
  • Yellow Pear – This variety produces an endless supply of yellow, bite-sized, pear-shaped fruit that have a mild flavor.
  • Costoluto Genevese- This is an Italian heirloom tomato. It has a large lobed ridged shape and great flavor.
  • Cherokee Purple- Yes, the Indians had wonderful tomatoes too.  This old Cherokee Indian fruit existed before 1890 and it has maroon/pink huge-sized tomatoes.
  • Old Virginia heirloom – Virginia has its own special heirloom tomatoes.  The Old Virginia variety has been grown for generations and it’s especially suited for the heat of Virginia summers because it produces round fruit that’s smooth and crack-resistant even in heat.

For the adventurous gardeners, here’s where you can obtain seeds for heirloom tomatoes. And there are sources to purchase Virginia heirloom tomato seeds.  One enterprising gardener in Charlottesville even encourages you to invest in heirloom tomato seeds as a protection for your culinary future!

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