It’s an exciting time of year when you start to see heirloom tomatoes dotted throughout the stalls at farmer’s markets or in your local grocery’s produce bins. These cracked, pitted, less than perfect but oh-so-scrumptious orbs of sweetness are like candy on the palate right now. Especially the smaller cherry tomato heirlooms (above), acting as the messenger that tomato season is beginning.
Heirloom tomatoes are just what their name implies. They have been handed down, through generations of farmers and gardeners, from family member to family member. Many of these tomato varieties are known to have thrived since the 1800’s.
If you’re a Green Thumb and feeling game, check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog. Not only do they feature a plethora of heirloom tomatoes, but they have a fantastic selection of other forgotten varieties of vegetables and fruits.
I make the perennial favorite Insalata Caprese ( ‘salad from Capri’) 1-2 days a week in the height of tomato season using fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, olive oil, a little balsamic, s&p. Funny thing though, I’ve never really stopped to investigate what each heirloom variety contributes to this plate of happiness. So here’s a quick primer on the various varieties of heirlooms you’ll most likely find growing in a garden near you.
Juane Flamme (pictured front)
Originated with Norbert Perreira of Helliner, France and has an excellent fruity flavor with a perfect blend of sweet and tart. I like these orange spheres for purely popping in your mouth as a mid-day snack, or I’ll have a small bowl of these out on the counter whilst I’m in the kitchen. Flamme cook well if you heat them quickly — sauté in olive oil and garlic, add some pasta and Parmesan and viola!…. a quick late night supper is served!
Black Zebra (green and brownish-red stripes, pictured front)
A perfect ball striped in deep colors typically grows to 1 & 1/2- 2 inches round. This unique variety is known for a meatier flesh than some cherry tomatoes, and has a faint smokey & sweet flavor when eaten raw. Disappointingly, this unusual flavor disappears when cooked so stick to eating them fresh off the vine.
Blondkopfchen (translated to Little Blonde Girl, pictured front on top)
Originating in former East Germany in the 1980’s, this yellow, grape-size variety is an excellent high-density plant and extremely rewarding for children or novice gardeners as it yields hundreds of medium-sweet cherry tomatoes throughout the season. This plant makes a good addition to any small space or balcony garden.
Cherry Red Roma
A mild flavor with a meaty interior for its size. This cherry-size version of the larger Italian Roma has the same dense flesh making it an excellent candidate for quick pasta dishes or fresh salsa. Scoop out the flesh and fill with a mixture of ricotta, basil, lemon and Pecorino for the perfect bite-size nibble at a summer dinner party.