The glittering gates to the Summer Tomato Gala have opened wide, the red carpet has been rolled out, and the scent of jasmine wrist corsages fills the air. An exhalation escapes from the mouths of the refined guests as the pumpkin coach pulls up. “The Heirlooms are here!” they cry. Making himself heard above the loud rustling of starchy tails and taffeta, the high-toned butler announces the stars as they roll by:
“Cherokee Purple”—named by heirloom tomato expert Craig LeHoullier, who, in 1990, got the seeds in the mail from a Mr. Green of Tennessee. Green claimed his neighbors had received the original seeds from Cherokee Indians 100 years earlier.
“Brandywine”—passed down by the Sudduth family to master Ohio tomato grower Ben Quisenberry in the early 1980s. Brandywines are thought to be descendants of the Mikado hybrid.
“Lucky Cross”—a red-yellow bicolor, thought to be a Brandywine cross, a product of bees’ work (a bee-produced cross).
“Big Rainbow”—rib-shouldered colorful beefsteak tomato with gold flesh and beautiful red and pink streaks running throughout. So named as it ripens in a rainbow of colors.
“Great White”—light chartreuse beefsteak tomato with a sweet, almost melon-like flavor. History thought to trace back to the 1860s.
When Dr. Oved Shifriss first bred the hybrid Big Boy Tomato at the Burpee Seed Company back in the 1940s, he likely never imagined that it would usher in an era of commercial tomato production leading to bland year-round hothouse tomatoes. Before Shifriss’ achievement, tomatoes were tricky for the home gardener. Now with so many open-pollinated and heirloom tomatoes to choose from, home gardeners and professionals alike can pick pedigreed favorites from seed catalogs.
However you slice them, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C and E, folate, and potassium. And those grown in the field (versus hothouse) have almost twice as much vitamin C. The famous phytochemical lycopene is what makes tomatoes red, and it is concentrated by cooking. But all colors of tomatoes contain two other cancer-fighting phytochemicals: P-coumaric and chlorogenic acids.
Slice and sprinkle heirloom tomatoes with sea salt, drizzle with olive oil, and enjoy; add to salads, sandwiches, sauces, or pasta bakes. Let the colorful palette and flavors of heirlooms be the life of your next party!
Store (display) tomatoes on the counter stem-down in a cool spot, out of direct sunlight. Use when slightly soft and aromatic.
Heidi Lewis writes about farms, bees, and fruit from her home in Sonoma County, CA. She's been with The FruitGuys since they were FruitKids.