Savvy cooks are turning to heirloom varieties for that old-fashioned flavor.
By Lisa James
For the serious gourmet there is nothing quite as sad as the standard produce-section tomato. “Fresh tomatoes available in supermarkets are usually pretty disappointing. Bought out of season, they are often dreadful,” says Lawrence Davis-Hollander, author of Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook (Storey). As founder of the Eastern Native Seed Conservancy, Davis-Hollander has helped restore many old-fashioned tomato varieties, known as heirlooms, to their rightful place in the kitchen.
Tomatoes come in a variety of colors. Heirlooms for table use include:
• Red: cherries—Hawaiian, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Reisentraube; slicers—Druzba, Earliana, Livingston’s Favorite, Paragon, Stone
• Pink to Purple: slicers—Eva Purple Ball, June Pink, Livingston’s Magnus, Mortgage Lifter, Purple Perfect
• Yellow to Orange: cherries—Galina, Livingston’s Gold Ball; slicers—Indian Moon, Jubilee, Limmony, Livingston’s Golden Queen, Valencia, Yellow Brandywine
• Black: slicers—Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, Black Prince, Black from Tula
• White: cherries—Dr. Carolyn, Snow White; slicers—Great White, White Beauty, White Queen
In addition to color and size, tomatoes are classified by shape. Plum or pear-shaped tomatoes are used most often in sauces because of their lower moisture content. Varieties include Amish Paste, Black Pear, Howard German, King Humbert, Napoli, Purple Pear, Orange Banana and Yellow Plum.
The best way to maintain the flavor of heirloom tomatoes is to “never refrigerate them,” says Davis-Hollander. Wonderful in salads, heirlooms also make great cooking tomatoes.
Tired of pasty golf balls masquerading as tomatoes? Let heirloom varieties grace your table.
Prawns with Garlic, Heirloom Tomatoes & Lemon
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb (about 12) prawns (colossal-sized shrimp), shelled & deveined
salt & freshly ground
white or black pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh garlic
1 cup chopped fresh heirloom tomatoes, peeled & seeded
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 tbsp snipped chives
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Serves 4. Analysis per serving: 144 calories, 5g protein, 13g fat (5g saturated), 1g fiber, 3g carbohydrate, 74 mg sodium
Reprinted with permission from Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook by Lawrence
Davis-Hollander (Storey Publishing, www.storey.com); recipe by Sarah Stegner
Growing Your Own Tomatoes
The best way to enjoy the tomato varieties you prefer is to grow them yourself. Fortunately, tomatoes are among the easiest crops to grow at home; even people who don’t consider themselves gardeners will often have a tomato plant or two stashed in a corner of the yard.
You can obtain transplant-ready tomato plants at nearly any garden center. However, your choice of variety is much wider if you start tomatoes from seed. (To find heirloom varieties, type “heirloom tomato seeds” into your browser’s search function.) Sow seeds at least a half-inch apart in flats. Spray the surface with water, place the flats in a plastic bag and keep the soil warm—between 75° and 85°—until they germinate in seven to ten days. Then remove the plastic and give the baby plants 12 to 14 hours of light a day. Keep the flats moist; when the first true leaves appear, transplant into 4” peat pots. Transplant again when the plants have four leaves and then again when they are between 8” and 10” tall, using deeper pots each time.
Tomatoes originated in Central America, and like their ancestors today’s varieties prefer hot, sunny conditions. Find a spot that gets at least six to eight hours of sun a day and set out plants after all danger of frost is past. You can use kelp and/or bone meal in the transplant holes, but don’t use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer unless you want beautifully leafy plants without a lot of tomatoes on them. Tomato plants tend to sprawl, so keep them contained with stakes, trellises or wire cages.
Tomatoes require regular, even watering. Uneven watering can cause calcium uptake problems resulting in blossom-end rot, a brown-black blemish that begins at the blossom end of the fruit. Grass clippings make a good, moisture-retaining mulch when applied after the soil has had a chance to warm up. If you want to take a more technical approach, you can use red plastic mulching sheets especially designed for tomatoes. Floating row covers used during the summer can help protect the developing fruits from sunscald in extremely hot climates; plastic covers used during the fall can help extend the season in cold ones.
Tomato-Brown Rice Pilaf
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup brown basmati rice, rinsed and drained
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh tomato
3 cups chicken broth*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
* For sodium-restricted diets: Use low-sodium or sodium-free broth, eliminate the added salt and increase the oregano by 1/4 tsp.
1. Heat oil, oregano, onion and garlic in a skillet over medium heat and cook, uncovered, stirring until the edges on the onion begin to brown. Add rice and tomato; stir until rice is covered with onion mixture.
2. Add broth, raise heat to high and stir a few times more. When the liquid begins to boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook undisturbed for 45 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Serves 4. Analysis per serving: 279 calories, 13g protein, 7g fat (1g saturated), 3g fiber,
42g carbohydrate, 1,477 mg sodium
Recipe and photo provided courtesy of Brian Yarvin, author of The Too Many Tomatoes Cookbook, and the Countryman Press, a division of WW Norton & Co (www.countrymanpress.com)