BY DEBRA J. MORRIS
The flavor of a ripe heirloom tomato in mid-summer cannot be surpassed. Their superior quality and taste is something we look forward to every year. A big slab of Cherokee Purple or Brandywine tomato in a sandwich or on a salad tops the list of summer favorites. And an heirloom Charentais melon with a bit of prosciutto is a flavor bomb!
Heirloom plants have been designated as those that are at least 50 years old, but many are much older. For centuries, farmers have collected seeds from their best-performing and most delicious crops and saved them for future planting, thus preserving their quality, flavor, and hardiness.
These fruits and vegetables differ from hybrid (or conventionally-grown) plants by their age and their method of pollination. Unlike hybrid varieties, heirloom plants rely on open-pollination by insects, birds and the wind to produce seeds. This type of pollination ensures that heirloom seeds produce plants that are true-to-type: Each plant will have the same size, growth habit, color, and flavor as its predecessor.
Heirlooms are also desired for their amazing flavor. They come from seeds that have been selected for intense flavor, tenderness, and visual appeal. Heirlooms are also harvested at peak ripeness, rather than under-ripe for transport. As a result, they are more perishable – in exchange for great flavor!
Tomatoes: Common types with long histories include Brandywine (pinkish red), Cherokee Purple (deep reddish-purple), Green Zebra (striped light and dark green), Jubilee (yellow).
Summer Squash: Pattypans (rippled edges), Fordhook Zucchini (medium green), Eight Ball or Globe (round), and Yellow Crookneck (bulbous yellow with narrow neck) are actually old varieties.
Eggplant: Black Beauty (deep purple), Rosa Bianca (mottled pink/white), Long Purple (long narrow purple), and Casper White (white and narrow) are some of the colorful heirloom eggplants.
Melons: Netted Gem (netted rind), Charentais (cantaloupe-like) and Banana (bright yellow oval) varieties of heirloom melons offer amazing sweet flavor and gorgeous colors.
At your Martinez Farmers Market, your local growers can offer a wider range of heirloom varieties because they pick them at peak ripeness, allowing for superb flavor, color, and texture. They also offer a range of varieties not found elsewhere. Happy Boy Farms from Watsonville has over ten different heirloom tomatoes like Green Zebra, German Pink, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and others. Resendiz Farms from Hughson will have Banana, Ambrosia, and Piel de Sapo heirloom melons to enjoy. J&M Farms out of Hollister offers a nice variety of heirloom tomatoes as well as summer squash such as eight ball and pattypan.
Heirloom fruits and vegetables have become treasured links to the past, a glimpse into a time when crops were grown for flavor and valued for their hardiness. Visit your local farmers’ market and find a taste of summer’s past.
Simply Delicious Caprese Salad
2 large heirloom tomatoes, different colors*
6 to 8 slices mozzarella cheese
Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Slice tomatoes thickly and plate alternately with mozzarella cheese slices. Sprinkle basil leaves over the tomatoes and cheese, more or less to taste. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, add salt and pepper. Enjoy!
*Never refrigerate tomatoes because it diminishes the texture and flavor !
Visit pcfma.org/eat for more great recipes.