Heirloom tomatoes have been handed down from farmer to garden over generations. They come in all different shapes and sizes: small to large, round to knobby, to fluted. They are also in all colors of the rainbow: not just red but pink, green, brown, yellow, orange, purple, white and various combinations. There are green and yellow striped heirloom tomatoes, red and orange striped, and even purple and green striped.
Different tomato colors generally indicate different flavors. Black and purple tomatoes tend to be highly acidic, which makes them tangy and rich. Lighter colored tomatoes are generally milder in flavor with lower acidity, so pink is milder than red, and down the line from orange to yellow to green to white.
Heirlooms also come with colorful names. Cherokee Purple, Paul Robeson and Black Prince are all purple/brown/black varieties. Brandywine are large pink tomatoes. Kellogg’s Breakfast is a big yellow variety. Valencia is the size and color of an orange. Green Zebra…you get the picture.
These tomatoes are difficult and expensive to grow because they require extra “TLC.” The delicate fruit grows on tall bushy plants to protect them from the hot sun, but they must be trellised to keep them off the ground. They are harvested by hand with the utmost care to avoid damaging them, and are packed atop “tomato pillows” nestled inside boxes that hold just one layer of fruit so they are not crushed during transport.
Terra Firma Farm has been producing these artisan tomatoes organically for 20 years, just an hour away in Winters, Yolo County. There, the hot days and cool nights provide the ideal conditions for growing heirloom tomatoes over a long season. Deep, fertile soils enable Terra Firma to grow tomatoes with a minimum of water, which conserves natural resources while producing the best tasting fruit.
In general, heirloom tomatoes are suited for enjoying fresh, rather than cooking. They are juicy enough that you don’t need much dressing to make a salad with them. Simply sprinkle them with salt, let them sit for 5 minutes, then add olive oil to taste. Toss with your favorite greens and other salad ingredients, and you’re good to go!
- Try a delicious early season heirloom recipe: Cherokee Purple Tomatoes with Arugula & Soft Eggs
- This is a must-try recipe for later in the heirloom season: Marvel Stripe & Fresh Mozzarella Crostini with Rustic Pesto