Sunday, January 27, 2013

You Say Tomato

What does it mean to use the phrase 'heirloom tomato'? Or for that matter, what does it mean to describe something as an 'heirloom vegetable'? Much has been written about this, and some information on this topic has been previously posted. to summarize- "An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of it's valued characteristics." (Tomatofest) For a much more detailed description and explanation go to-

For farm season 2012 David grew 60+ varieties of tomatoes, most of which were heirloom varieties. Among the reasons that David grows so many varieties of tomatoes, especially heirloom, is basic- there are a lot of wonderful tasting tomatoes that are available. Without exaggeration, there are thousands of varieties of tomatoes to choose from. Tomatoes come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors. David's goal is to provide as much variety as possible; this is true for tomatoes and the other varieties of vegetables grown at ZFF.

Most tomatoes that you will find at farmers' markets, especially if you know that the produce vendor is farming locally, are going to taste better and be fresher than what you will be able to purchase in a grocery store, whether the tomato is an heirloom or standard. As a general rule heirloom tomatoes do not 'travel' very well from farm to market; their skins are thinner and are prone to splitting. This is one reason that heirloom tomatoes are not routinely sold in grocery stores and that the best place to find them is at farmers' markets or farm stands associated with the farm growing them. The vast majority of tomatoes sold in grocery stores are those that are commercially grown for long shelf life and have had chemicals used in their development to help them resist disease and to give them their bright red color. (Commercial tomatoes from Florida are grown using an excessive amount of fertilizers and pesticides.) An exception to this rule of thumb of what's available in a grocery store would be if your local store has a relationship with a larger scale local grower. (An upcoming post will provide links to articles that address some of the issues pertaining to the commercial tomato industry.)

Heirloom tomatoes, tomatoes in general, are vulnerable to a variety of diseases. In an attempt to curtail some disease for the 2012 season, David used a hot water bath to sterilize the outside of the tomato seeds prior to placing them in the seeding trays. The hope was that this would allow the plants to be healthier and more prolific. This hope did not materialize as intended. The first tomato planting  experienced a variety of diseases. Despite this David was still able to have a wide range of tomatoes and an abundant harvest. A second planting of tomatoes was much healthier and David was able to have tomatoes available for market through the middle of October. Sadly, on October 13 there was a frost that killed the tomato plants (this frost also killed the eggplant and pepper plants). What was frustrating about this, is that the temperature for the next two weeks was above frost level, meaning that David would have been able to have tomatoes through the end of October were it not for that one night of frost. Such is the nature of farming.

Currently David is working on his seed order for the coming season. As was the case last season, there will again be 60+ varieties of tomatoes. The first tomatoes should be available sometime mid to late July (weather dependent) with the bounty bonanza coming during August. There will again be a second planting of tomatoes which, if all goes well, should carry tomato availability well into October, or at least until the first frost.

Enjoy the following pictures as they whet your appetite for the tomato bounty to come!

If you look closely you can see some of the splitting of the skin. This is a common occurrence with heirlooms. They are not always perfect, but they are always delicious.

A variety of cherry tomato called Black Cherry. Over the past two seasons it has become the second most popular of the cherry tomatoes that David grows.

Basil in the top left corner. Hot peppers in the lower left corner. Sun Gold cherry tomatoes on the lower right- the sweetest cherry tomato you will find. The most popular cherry tomato David grows. In the middle is a variety of cherry tomato called Sun Cherry. It has a nice full tomato flavor, a little on the sweet side.

The New Amsterdam Market had a Tomato Fest event. A number of chefs had tables at the market and cooked a variety of dishes featuring tomatoes as a primary component. David was asked if he would be available to answer questions people might have about tomatoes. He took his role 'very' seriously.

The yellow tomatoes on the left are Garden Peach. A sweet, juicy tomato. Just pick it up and eat. In the middle are Red Zebra, sweet and flavorful. On the right are Eva Purple Ball- almost always perfectly formed with a nice fully balanced tomato flavor. 

Green zebras- adds a nice color to a salad. Has some sweetness on first bite with a little tartness later on.

On the right are mixed pints of cherry tomatoes- various colors, shapes and flavors. In the middle are Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries- This heirloom is not actually a cherry, but rather a small ground tomato. The fruits were recorded in horticultural literature as early as 1837 in Pennsylvania and are still common today at roadside stands in late summer. This outstanding Polish variety is prized for its clean flavor.  This tomato has pineapple and vanilla flavor.  Because of their high pectin count, they can be used for preserves, pies, over ice cream or in fresh fruit salads.(Slow Food USA - Ark of Taste)

Striped Germans- a delicious tomato with a fruity tomato flavor. As gorgeous inside as out.

Seeding for the coming season will be starting some time at the end of February. Seeding and tomatoes- things to look forward to. Happy and healthy eating to one and all.

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