Heirloom tomatoes are pretty easy to spot, but sometimes hard to find, even at the local farmers market. Unlike most of the tomatoes sold at grocery stores they lack a uniformity in size, shape and color. Even heirloom fruit of the same variety can be as different as fingerprints. They can be small or large, pear shaped or round, and appear in a rainbow of colors including black, purple, red, orange, yellow and green.
Heirloom tomatoes also differ greatly in flavor from the standard supermarket fare, which can be bland and sometimes grainy in texture. Depending on the variety, heirlooms can be savory, tangy, sweet, tropical, earthy and especially the darker colors even chocolaty. It’s no wonder that such varieties as the green zebra, the sweet and verdant plum pictured above, have become a favorite among chefs, coast to coast.
Very simply defined, what makes an heirloom tomato an heirloom tomato is the way it is grown and reproduced. Any plant, tomato or otherwise, is considered heirloom if it is passed on from generation to generation through seed saving and replanting. Beyond that, there is much discussion and debate, with some advocates defining heirlooms as being plants that are at least 100 years old and others defining them as being earlier than 1951, widely considered the year when hybridization exploded on the international front.
Color, flavor and a sense of history all contribute to the allure of this most sensuous of fruits. Heirloom tomatoes are absolutely impossible to pass by at the farmers market without touching, sniffing or just stopping to contemplate.
With a handful of precious gems from Six River Farm, an organic farm in Bowdoinham, Maine, I whipped up an easy, colorful and delicious tomato salad that was a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds.
Heirloom Tomato Salad
- a mix of fresh heirloom tomatoes, cut in chunks
- fresh cucumber, diced
- a 2/1 ratio of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
- a pinch of salt
- a dash of pepper
- fresh basil, if desired
Mix dressing separately and sprinkle over chopped tomatoes and cucumbers. Add salt and pepper. Top with basil.