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Feb 5, 2007 07:21 AM

Heirloom Tomatoes

In my local supermarket they have a big display of amazingly colorful heirloom tomatoes. I keep hearing about how good they are but have never tried one.
My questions are: is this a good time of year to buy them, or will I be getting substandard ones? (I live in North Texas)
Any recipe ideas? Is it best to keep preparation to a minimum and just have them in a simple salad?
Are they worth the fuss in general - will I notice the difference from a standard tomato?
Thanks in advance

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  1. Well, our Los Angeles farmers' markets are now out of heirlooms, so I don't know where they are growing them. Heirlooms are just wonderful simply prepared, with EVOO and good vinegar. During their best time of year, they taste like the essence of tomato, without a hint of the mushy cardboard-ness of store tomatoes. Looks don't seem to matter.

    1. realize what heirloom tomato means - it just means a variety of tomato that is not mainstream. kind of like saying is "indi" music good? Indi just means that its NOT mainstream, yknow? so, you can treat an heirloom just like you would treat any other tomato. i would say slice it raw and serve with fresh buffalo mozz and a little basil (or any other mild green) all drizzled well with olive oil. extra virgin.

      4 Replies
      1. re: ben61820

        Heirloom means it is an old-time variety from saved seed stock before Monsanto, ADM and the rest got there grubby little paws on seeds and started messing around with the genes. Heirlooms are generally regarded as better tasting as they are not bred to withstand 2000 miles of shipment. I would be very wary of buying heirlooms in a supermarket as they can be much harder to grow....seeing them in a supermarket in February makes me think the heirloom designation is a bit of a gimmick. Tomato season, in general (as another poster mentioned), is June to September. Get a good canned variety in February.

        1. re: gourmanda

          You shoiuld learn the differences among heirloom designation, F1 hybrid and GM tomatoes, specifically which are used for commercial growing and which non-heirloom are used for home gardening or small scale farming.
          Not all gardeners and small farmers regard the heirlooms as the best tasting. Most have their own particular favorites, not all of which are heirlooms. I prefer several non-determinate varieties which I've grown for years.

          1. re: MakingSense

            Yes, there are *plenty* of heirloom tomatoes that are inferior to hybrids in terms of taste. Some I like, and I grow again, but many are underwhelming. "Heirloom" is a marketing designation designed to beguile people into losing critical faculties.

            1. re: Karl S

              Actually there was a time when "heirloom" varieties meant something specific and was not just a marketing designation as it is now. apparently any odd looking tomato is now an "heirloom" tomato. Originally it was a term that covered open pollinated varieties (not just tomato btw) that had been around for a while. Some people used a cutoff of 50 years old and up, others used the 100 year mark etc.

              The heirloom designation has nothing to do with taste just age.

              There are actually a lot of old hybrid tomato varieties that are still popular and I see them designated as heirloom varieties sometimes. In a way I can understand the heirloom designation actually.

      2. I've had some wonderfully flavourful heirloom tomatoes, but I've also had some duds. My guess is that the more prevalent they become, the greater the likelihood of their having been grown in unfavourable conditions, and by more and more mass-market producers.

        Probably our best bet is to buy them at farmer's markets, where we can question their origins. At the prices charged here in Toronto for heirloom tomatoes, it's quite irritating to bite into a mealy, flavourless batch.

        1. Why not wait until summertime, when you will be a lot more likely to get a good one? Go to the farmers market, try the samples, talk to the farmers/patrons around you.
          The wait will be worth it, tomatoes in February are not.

          1. Unfortunately, it seems that all regular varieties of tomatoes regardless of whether they're in season have essentially no taste and to get any flavor you've got to get heirlooms,

            3 Replies
            1. re: Den

              Not a fair comment, as far as I'm concerned. I've eaten wonderful, in-season tomatoes that are not heirloom varieties.

              1. re: FlavoursGal

                Agreed, we grew up on Early Girls warm from the garden, they rivaled any heirloom.
                In season and grown/stored with care is key.

              2. re: Den

                There are several old threads on heirloom vs. nonheirloom tomatoes on CH, and I've got to weigh in on the side of well-ripened as the determining factor in taste. Grown side by side in my garden, many of the heirloom open pollinated varieties (like cherokee purple, german striped, etc) taste no better than ther more recent hybrids (like celebrity & beefmaster). An out of season tomato, poorly handled, will taste bad no matter what. Of course, if you can find hothouse tomatoes grown at a relatively high temp, they're pretty good, even in winter.