The Real Tomato – Heirlooms
A few weeks ago a friend of mine came by the farmers market looking for an heirloom tomato. She was completely brand new to the Market scene and was encouraged by her nutritionist to start eating more fresh food. However, she was intimidated by the Market buying process.
“I have no idea which one to pick. What if I pick a bad one?” she stated. I gladly stepped in to help my friend and walked her over to a nearby organic farmer’s tent. “Here, I’ll show you just how to pick a good heirloom tomato,” I said. Of course those tomatoes sat right next to the perfectly round and red supermarket looking tomatoes that she was drawn to. Often familiarity wins in this situation. But, I encouraged my friend to ignore their perfect image and begin looking at the heirloom tomatoes.
At first glance the heirloom tomato can look like the ugly step child of the tomato family. Often a less than perfect round shape, met with weird wrinkles and cracks – these tomatoes look less than ideal. But those that have tasted these little awkward jewels know better. They are a rare treat, passed down from generations of farmers and free from any science driven genetic engineering.
Bursting with flavor, and a melt in your mouth texture – heirloom tomatoes are the prize of any farmer. That is why they are quite a bit more expensive than a traditional tomato. You can eat them like an apple, or make then into a delicious salad or sandwich.
How to Buy a Heirloom Tomato:
- You’ve got to go local on this one. You want them warm from the sun. Skip the supermarket and head out to a local market or farm stand.
- Locate the large red, purple, yellow or green tomatoes typically turned upside down to display their shiny backside.
- Pick up the tomato. Make sure it doesn’t have any deep splits that have broken the thin skin.
- Make sure you don’t feel any abnormally soft spots as that indicates a bruise.
- You want the tomato firm enough to stay intact, but soft enough to melt in your mouth.
- Don’t let ugliness steer you away. Often those are the best ones.
- Be prepared to pay $3-4lb for a heirloom tomato.
- Once you have purchased the tomatoes, make sure you do not crush them in your bag by adding heavy things on top of them. Treat them like a soft peach.
- Carefully transport them home and then take them out of the bag and set them on the counter – not the fridge.
- Eat within 2-3 days if already ripe.
Once you try a heirloom tomato you’ll never be able to go back to the bland and tasteless supermarket tomatoes. You’ll know why they call them fruits after all. If you want a guide to individual heirloom tomatoes, and a few recipes – check out my heirloom tomato post here from last summer.