BY DEBRA J. MORRIS
The taste of a ripe heirloom tomato in midsummer cannot be beat. We look forward to their outstanding quality and taste every year. A large slice of Cherokee Purple or Brandywine tomato in a sandwich or on a salad is high on the list of summer favorites. And a traditional Charentais melon with a little prosciutto is a taste bomb!
Plants that are at least 50 years old were considered heirlooms, but many are much older. For centuries, farmers have been collecting seeds from their top performing and most delicious crops and keeping them for future planting to preserve their quality, taste and resilience.
These fruits and vegetables differ from hybrid (or conventionally grown) plants in terms of their age and pollination method. 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 of the right type: each plant has the same size, growth habit, color and taste as its predecessor.
Heirlooms are also sought after for their amazing taste. They come from seeds selected for their intense taste, tenderness and visual appeal. Heirlooms are harvested even when they are fully ripe and not too little for transport. This makes them more perishable – in exchange for good taste!
Tomatoes: Common species with a long history are Brandywine (pink-red), Cherokee Purple (deep reddish-purple), Green Zebra (striped light and dark green), Jubilee (yellow).
Summer squash: Pattypans (ribbed edges), Fordhook Zucchini (medium green), Eight Ball or Globe (round) and Yellow Crookneck (bulbous yellow with a narrow neck) are actually old varieties.
Aubergine: Black Beauty (deep purple), Rosa Bianca (pink / white mottled), Long Purple (long, narrow purple) and Casper White (white and narrow) are some of the brightly colored eggplants.
Melons: Cross-linked Gem (net rind), Charentais (melon-like) and Banana (light yellow oval) varieties of heirloom melons offer an amazingly sweet taste and beautiful colors.
At your Martinez Farmers Market, your local growers will be able to offer a wider variety of heirloom varieties as they pick them when they are fully ripe, which allows for great taste, color and texture. They also offer a range of strains not found elsewhere. Happy Boy Farms from Watsonville has over ten different heirloom tomatoes like Green Zebra, German Pink, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and others. Hughson’s Resendiz Farms will enjoy banana, ambrosia, and piel de sapo heirloom melons. J&M Farms from Hollister has a nice selection of heirloom tomatoes as well as summer squash like 8 ball and pattypan.
Heirloom fruits and vegetables have become valued links to the past, a glimpse into a time when grains were grown for their taste and valued for their resilience. Visit your local farmers market and get a taste of summer’s past.
Simply delicious Caprese salad
2 large heirloom tomatoes, different colors *
6 to 8 slices of mozzarella cheese
Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
Fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper
Cut tomatoes into thick slices and serve alternately with mozzarella slices. Scatter basil leaves over the tomatoes and cheese, more or less to taste. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!
* Never store tomatoes in the refrigerator as this will reduce the texture and taste!
visit pcfma.org/eat for more great recipes.