Few can resist taking a bite out of a fresh-picked local tomato, and now that tomato season is in full bloom, heirloom varieties are at their ripest. Unlike their conventional, dull-flavored cousins, these summer beauties melt sweet, summer-fresh juices into your mouth.
What does heirloom actually mean? Heirloom produce is basically an old strain that has been kept alive by gardeners and small farmers by harvesting and replanting the seeds. Heirlooms are left to be pollinated by the birds, bees, wind, and the rest of nature. In this way, they continue to reproduce in their purest, truest form, passed on from one generation to the next. Some varieties date to prehistoric times! They pre-date the modern industrial monoculture hybrids (a tomato usually developed through genetic engineering) made to endure the rigors of commercial agriculture: mass production, mechanical picking, temperature fluctuation during year-round cultivation, artificial ripening, pesticides and cross-country shipping.
Heirlooms, unlike conventional tomatoes that are often prematurely pick, are picked when ripe. Some are bulbous and lumpy, others can be green, yellow, purple, red, salmon or multicolored.
Heirloom tomatoes provide a vast number of nutrients including potassium, niacin, vitamin B6 and folate and the cancer fighting antioxidant lycopene. Since they are picked when ripe and spend little time traveling from farm to plate, these nutrients are readily available to nourish your body.
Popular Heirloom Varieties:
Next time you venture through your local farmers market feast your eyes on the rich array of local pickings:
- Yellow Pear: The small-fruited tomatoes are firm and juicy, with a bright, nicely balanced flavor. The yellow color adds sunshine to any summer salad.
- Plum Tomato: Standing three inches tall and two inches across, this tomato’s dry, firm texture make it perfect for canning, making sauces, tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes and ketchup.
- Cherokee Purple: Don’t dismiss the deep purple of this variety. At its prime, it exudes a deep violet-black hue. Unlike many other tomatoes I’ve tasted, it’s extra large and jam-packed with sweetness.
- Red Brandywine: This relic maintained a legacy partly due to its classic flavor profile. Try it raw, roasted, and grilled! Top your pizza or a barbequed burger with its large luscious slices.
Heirloom tomatoes ripen and spoil quickly because they’re picked at peak freshness. After selecting a firm, un-bruised tomato, do not refrigerate them. They become soft and grainy under colder temperatures.
What is your favorite heirloom variety?
Seared Halibut With Tomato and Corn Salad and Basil Vinaigrette
- 1 1/2 pounds halibut (cut into 4 filets)
- 3 cups fresh corn kernels
- 3 cups small heirloom tomatoes, quartered
- 1/4 cup scallions, sliced
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1/4 cup fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 2 lemons, juiced and zested
- 1 medium shallot
- Salt and pepper to taste
Combine corn, tomato and scallion in a bowl. Set aside.
In a food processor or blender combine the olive oil (all but 1 tbsp) with the basil, mint, lemon, and shallot to make dressing. Set aside.
Season halibut with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a sauté pan. Cook fish for 3 minutes per side or until opaque in the center. Remove from pan.
Toss salad with dressing, reserving some. Plate salad and rest fish on top. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve.
Per serving: 350 calories, 34.7 g. protein, 30.3 g. carbs, 4.9 g fiber, 11.8 g, fat, 1.75 g. sat. fat, 45.3 mg. cholesterol, 170 mg. sodium