Heirloom tomatoes are one of our favorite things to grow. We love the connection to history and doing our part to keep some flavor in the tomato family. Today most commercially available tomatoes have been breed so that they can be picked green, shipped to warehouses where they are “gassed” with ethylene to begin the ripening process, and then shipped to stores where they are sold half ripe and flavorless – but looking perfectly light red and round.
Heirloom tomatoes in contrast have been saved by small farmers and gardeners for generations, and the primary consideration is, well, flavor. These tomatoes tend to not look perfect, and they don’t ship well or respond to “gassing” so unless your grocery store has a special relationship with a local farm you won’t find any there.
When an heirloom tomato is ripe it will feel soft and have a tomato fragrance. Sometimes green shoulders don’t fully ripen. Tomatoes loose flavor when stored below 55 degrees and should be stored at room temperature until ripe and then used quickly.
Here’s the list of varieties we have growing for this year’s CSA shares:
Cherokee Purple: Medium sized deep red-purple fruits, sweet and slightly tart. This variety was originally from Tennessee and is said to have originated from the Cherokee Indians.
Branywine: Large rich pink fruits. Amazingly rich flavor that is hard to surpass, widely accepted as the best tasting tomato available. This variety was found on a farm in southern Pennsylvania where it had been kept in the family for over 100 years. The seed was introduced commercially in 1979 by the now famed (in tomato grower circles) Ben Quisenburry.
Rose: Very similar to Brandywine (and possibly related) except the shoulders are usually more ribbed. This variety arrived from France where it is regarded as the “best tasting tomato”. We have a hard time deciding which is our favorite.
Kellogg’s Breakfast: These large orange beefsteak fruit can weigh 1-2 pounds and they are delicious, with a great acid/sweetness balance. The variety originates in West Virginia and the seed was made commercially available by Darrell Kellogg of Redford, Michigan (hence the variety name).
Great White: Big yellow fruits with a mild creamy low-acid taste.
Striped German: We won a Giant Tomato contest with this variety the year our farm began. But the fruits are so much more that large. Orange, yellow and red starburst color that looks reminiscent of a tie-died tee-shirt from the sixties greets you when they are cut into – and the flavor is very sweet and juicy.
Amish Paste: A very large Oxheart variety (oxheart varieties are in the Roma family but are larger and heart shaped). Most Roma and paste tomatoes have very little flavor but are low on liquid so are good for cooking. This Amish heirloom variety is an exception it has a very rich sweet flavor and is superb for fresh use, while still maintaining a low liquid content making it great for cooking as well.
Speckled Roman: Gorgeous 5 inch long red paste tomato with yellow and orange stripes. Delicious flavor make it great for fresh use, meaty flesh with few seeds make it ideal for cooking!