With regular red round beefsteak tomatoes, there’s no real surprises. You get a box of red, round, shiny tomatoes that can be shipped from here to there—perfect for slicing and dicing. And they’re great.
But when you open a box of heirloom tomatoes, you don’t really know what you are going to get—and that’s part of their charm.
While regular tomatoes are grown for appearance and graded into specific sizes, heirloom tomatoes are grown for flavor. Round or plum tomatoes are perfect for the majority of what you need tomatoes for, like chopping, slicing, or cooking. Since they are sized and graded, they make it easier on food costs or par ordering. If you have a banquet of 500 guests, you have a good idea of how many cases to order.
Heirlooms have a look only a mother could love, and are the tomatoes that your grandmother and great grandmother probably ate. They are lumpy, sometimes have splits or cracks in the skin, color striations, and their thin skin is soft to the touch when ripe. They can be a riot of colors and sizes: green striped, deep purply to dark brown, bright yellow and orange, or any mix of colors in between.
They are juicy, and they are flavorful—and that last part is what makes them special.
These guys are loaded with flavor.
Some common varieties of heirloom tomatoes are:
- Purple Cherokee
- Black Cherry
- Gold Medal
- Green Zebra
What makes something an “heirloom”?
Let’s get into a couple of quick facts about them.
According to Bonnie Seeds, there is a difference between a hybrid tomato and an heirloom.
You know what a hybrid car is, it’s an intentional cross between gas and electric. So, a hybrid plant is when plant breeders intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant, looking for the best traits.
Heirlooms are open-pollinated which means they are pollinated out in the wide open as nature intended. Bees, insects, birds, or how the wind blows: there is no intentional intervention. Heirlooms are grown from saved seeds and are at least 50 years old, and some can be a 100+ years old. They are beautiful just sliced and served with little else needed except a splash of good olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky salt.
Dan explains a few different types of heirlooms:
In his heirloom tomato video, Dan went over a few different types of heirlooms.
- Commercial Heirlooms: open-pollinated varieties more than 50 years in circulation
- Family Heirlooms: seeds that have been passed down for generations
- Created Heirlooms: intentional crosses
- Mystery Heirlooms: these are luck-of-the-draw kinda heirloom as a result of natural cross-pollination
You have homework to do…
You have some homework. Like a nice piece of stone fruit, heirloom tomatoes are rarely ready to eat right out of the box. Since they are so soft when ripe, our heirloom tomatoes generally ship unripe–leaving the ripening up to you. For best results, plan ahead and allow these beauties to ripen at their own pace—and need we say it?—leave them out of the refrigerator. Store them in the cooler part of your dry storage, away from heat sources and let nature, and time, take its course.
Flavor and consistency
By the way, if you are looking for a tomato that is a little more predictable in consistency but still has great flavor, check out the Ugly Ripe tomato. It’s always the peak of summer with these guys…they are consistent in shape, flavor, and supply–and available year round.
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