Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Heirloom tomatoes - Snob Appeal

Another tomato article (it must be August), this time in the Washington Post about heirloom tomatoes. According to the piece, heirlooms are defined as any variety of tomato that can reproduce from seed and existed before World War II. Heirlooms have not been genetically modified and their seeds have been handed done from generation to generation. I’ve watched them gain in popularity at farmer’s markets over the years; if there is a way a tomato can be trendy, the heirloom has done it.

While I'm aware by purchasing and eating heirlooms I am helping to keep biodiversity alive and well, I was also under the impression that without fail, heirlooms have tons more flavor than their supermarket cousins. Knowing this, the last couple of summers I’ve bought them, not only enticed by the promise of far superior taste but also by their beautiful coloring and whimsical shapes and names (Banana Legs, Hillbilly, Jersey Devil and Money Maker, to name a few).

But I’ve discovered, as the author of this article points out very well, just because a tomato is an heirloom doesn’t make it good. While I’ve had wonderfully flavorful heirlooms, I’ve also had my fair share of mealy, watery ones, enough to make me skeptical. Sure, I’m helping to keep old varieties of tomatoes from disappearing, but at the end of the day, this isn’t a science experiment, it’s my food and I also want it to taste great.

I’ll stop now and let you read the article. The author does a terrific job of keeping things in perspective where heirlooms are concerned. I for one am not giving up on them; if anything, I’m even more determined to find a few varieties I enjoy and seek them out when I know the weather has been conducive to a tasty crop. This summer at the market I’ve had the most delicious Brandywines and German Goldens. If you can get your hands on a quality heirloom, you’re in for a treat.

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