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Heirloom tomatoes

knitterbetty Aug 1, 2009 08:04 AM

OK, all my super gourmet friends, question: are heirloom tomatoes worth 4.99 a pound as against my local New Jersey tomatoes, 2.29? Both looked great at the market yesterday, potato bread is rising for the BLT with the local. Am I missing a taste thrill?

  1. l
    LauraGrace Aug 1, 2009 10:34 AM

    Yow! Five bucks a pound?? I've been twitching paying three bucks a pound. Are you talking at the supermarket or the farmers' market? You might be able to get them cheaper direct from the source. I love heirlooms, and yes, they are MUCH better than hybrids, and yes, you are missing a taste thrill, but if my choice was hybrids for less than half the cost of heirlooms, my wallet demands hybrids.

    1 Reply
    1. re: LauraGrace
      knitterbetty Aug 1, 2009 01:58 PM

      Yes, I'm gonna stick with NJ, thanks, lauragrace and everyone else. They weren't labelled specifically, sign just said: Heirloom. Neither a supermarket OR a farmer's market, an upscale nursery/produce store, I regularly shop their specials , their corn was fabulous, melons sweet when they said sweet, etc. They looked just like the local tomatoes. Someone ,mentioned Brandywine, I tried growing one but the woodchuck ate it. Such is life. Guess I've have to get my BLT kicks with local and of course my wonderful potato white bread. thanks again

    2. wekick Aug 1, 2009 10:54 AM

      I think it depends on the tomato variety and how well it turns out. They are more expensive because the yield per plant is much lower and they are more subject to disease. One of our local TV stations planted 3 beds of tomatoes-heirloom. hybrid and super hybrid. The difference in harvest was amzing. Ours are generally $4/lb around here. I have had some that were kind of bland. Hit the jack pot yesterday. Found a farm with black tomatoes for $1.50/lb that were delicious. All colors of cocktail tomatoes too.

      1. d
        duck833 Aug 1, 2009 11:17 AM

        $4.00 per at our farmers market here. I usually buy a yellow one and a almost red one, slice, add some fresh basil, motz and balsamic. Yep they are worth it.

        On the other hand I have three Brandywine Heirloom's in the garden, tomatoes have come on fast with last weeks hot weather. Will be picking my own in the backyard in a few days ;)

        1. alanbarnes Aug 1, 2009 11:27 AM

          There are about a zillion varieties of heirloom tomato, and their flavors run the gamut. Same with hybrids. If you find an heirloom variety with a flavor you love, it may be worth the extra cost.

          In my experience, though, ripeness matters more than variety. A Cherokee Purple picked as a breaker and shipped to a grocery store where it sits on the shelf for three days isn't going to taste as good as a fully vine-ripened Shady Lady that was just picked.

          1. m
            MakingSense Aug 1, 2009 11:33 AM

            Not necessarily. There are a huge number of heirloom tomatoes and some of them taste awful. Others will be be grown in the vegetable plots in Heaven, right alongside some terrific hybrids.
            Heirlooms are hot right now and many people will pay premium prices for them at markets just because they're labeled as heirlooms, but frankly, there is little way of telling if there are some hybrids jumbled in with the lot of them if they're sold in a mixed box.. They look a lot alike, except that many of the heirlooms have wild and wacky shapes and colors.

            You are very fortunate that you can buy local Jersey 'maters. There are some fabulous hybrids bred especially for your specific climate and growing condition and they are justly famous.
            There are also some heirlooms that do extremely well in New Jersey, which ain't called The Garden State for nothing. Buy a few for color and experiment.
            But, dang, at $4.99/lb!!! I'd buy the tomatoes that made New Jersey famous and save a lot of money.

            BTW, sometimes farmers' markets ask what they think people will pay.
            I've had a choice recently from two nearby markets. From $1.29 to $1.79, $2, $2.50, $3.50, and $4.75. I've bought a few at each price point and the $1.29 tomatoes have been consistently the best. Perfect red, juicy, meaty, right amount of acid.
            I imagine that they're hybrids but didn't ask. Just ate.

            1. hotoynoodle Aug 1, 2009 01:23 PM

              i wouldn't waste money on heirlooms at the supermarket, at a farmer's market i would happily pay. especially if they smell "tomatoey".

              at your grocer, you have no idea how long ago they were picked, how far they've traveled and if (probably) they have been refrigerated.

              1. NYchowcook Aug 1, 2009 01:33 PM

                Try a brandywine tomato from the farmer's market. The taste is amazing. They're what launched the interest/popularity in heirlooms.
                Couldn't ask for a better BLT. Or simply sliced on a plate w/ basil, olive oil, and a touch of sea salt.

                1. nomadchowwoman Aug 1, 2009 01:59 PM

                  When local tomatoes are ripe, I buy them, but the rest of the year, it's heirlooms, and I'm willing to spend the extra $. Much as I hate to say it, I think the heirlooms I've had, whether from the farmers market and breathtakingly delicious or the supermarket and just divine, always seem juicier and taste more tomato-y than even peak-of-the-season hybrids from local farmers. Ideal, of course, are local farmers' heirlooms. Judging from the lines at the one stand that has them at our farmers market, others agree.
                  But I'm guessing your BLT, made with homemade bread and excellent local hybrids, will be the definition of summer comfort food.

                  1. pikawicca Aug 1, 2009 05:27 PM

                    Tthis is a really bad year to be asking this question: throughout much of North America, the tomato crop has been hit hard by weird cool and we weather. Heirlooms that are usually wonderful are mealy and lacking in flavor. Frankly, I would buy h7brids that look good, as opposed to heirlooms, and I've never thought this before. It's simply a bad tomato year and the hybrids are doing better than the heirlooms, at least here in the mid west.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: pikawicca
                      hotoynoodle Aug 2, 2009 05:15 AM

                      here in new england we have yet to get tomatoes and many csa's will not offer them at all.


                      the summer of no tomatoes...

                      1. re: hotoynoodle
                        NYchowcook Aug 2, 2009 08:37 AM

                        The summer of bad tomatoes, if any, I'm afraid, here in the NE. Tomatoes need some dry weather as they ripen; too much water and they won't be flavorful. And with the wet weather, there's been blight. Lots of leaves improve the fruit's flavor.

                    2. r
                      Rosie1968 Aug 13, 2009 11:00 AM

                      Ouch. We grow and sell organic heirloom tomatoes here in rural Ohio, and there's no way we'd be charging nearly $5.00 a pound! We did an informal survey of other farms and markets for pricing and arrived at about $2.00 per pound. That probably isn't really enough if you consider all the work including hand-picking and raising the plants from seed ourselves, but our area is thrifty by nature, especially now.

                      As for heirloom flavor and vigor, well, there's a reason they have been around so long. If all they had was flavor, they would not be as popular. They DO produce quite well, some more than others, naturally. I've had Kelloggs Breakfast (a lovely golden beefsteak) outlast a bad disease year when all others be they heirloom or hybrid (except Sungold) succumbed. (We had to be away for a couple weeks pre-harvest and our house sitter did not know what she was looking at. By the time we got back, things had too much of a start.)

                      And the flavors...well...We do tomato tastings for garden clubs, and it is fun to watch people react differently to the exact same tomato! With literally thousands of different varieties, there's plenty to love and not love! Though hybrids are touted for better vigor and production, I can't say I agree in our nearly 20 years of growing experience. If you practice good garden hygiene, mulch well to minimize soil splash borne diseases (we use untreated grass clippings), they do just fine. Just this year the hybrid seed I grew (a freebie from one source) had slower weaker seedlings and worse germination than all but one other variety. Even as a medium sized tomato it is not ripening yet while three or four of our heirloom beefsteaks ARE. One hybrid exception is Sungold cherry tomatoes, which is one of our Must Haves every year. FANTASTIC cherry tomato.

                      1. 2m8ohed Aug 13, 2009 12:49 PM

                        Here is one food writer's opinion from yesterday's Washington Post:


                        The author points out (accurately, in my opinion) that a tomato isn't necessarily superior just because it is an heirloom rather than a hybrid. I am growing about a dozen varieties of tomatoes here in Northern CA this year and I agree. Some hybrids, such as Sungold and Early Girl, are delicious. Some heirlooms are also fantastic. I had a salad of homegrown Mr. Stripey and Cherokee Purple tomatoes yesterday that was wonderful. "Supermarket tomatoes" are less likely to be as excellent simply because of the transportation and storage issues, but I wouldn't write off all tomatoes in your market, especially when the price difference is that great and you can get local tomatoes. (I grew up in NJ so I know about the fierce loyalty people have to Jersey toms!)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: 2m8ohed
                          NYCkaren Aug 13, 2009 01:34 PM

                          They're $4.50 a pound at the farmer's markets near me. At that price I haven't bought any this year. Maybe I'll splurge for my birthday next month.

                        2. pikawicca Aug 13, 2009 01:38 PM

                          I bought some Juliets at the farmers' market yesterday, and they were $2/lb. Wonderful, too. These "baby Romas" are tolerating the wretched growing season this year better than most.

                          1. mbfant Aug 14, 2009 02:16 AM

                            At this time of year, if you have local New Jersey tomatoes, buy them. I have always found so-called heirloom tomatoes disappointing, but I've never heard a complaint about a New Jersey tomato in August.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mbfant
                              deadre Aug 23, 2009 03:31 PM

                              i assume heirlooms are at their peek right now. Is there a 3 month season, 2 month season? I just paid $2.99lb at our great Gelson's Market in L.A. and they were just about as good as the Farmer's Market tomatoes I picked up thursday. I just want to know if there's a cut-off date for them.

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