Sunday, July 31, 2005

Tomato Fest: Heirlooms

It's nearing August and I have committed to a weekly post on Eating Local. Last week's bag of goodies yielded tomatoes, and not just any tomatoes, but heirlooms.

Heirlooms, for those not in the know, are what I would call "real tomatoes." Commercial agriculture specializes in growing varieties that look appealing and will survive the trip to market. They are often picked before peak of ripeness, and a general rule are dark red, very symmetrical, attractive, and totally flavorless. Especially when not in season.

According to Barbara Berst Adams' article on Heirlooms on the Farm and Garden site:

"Tomatoes have been cultivated around the world for centuries. The origin of tomatoes is considered to be the western coast of South America, in present day Peru, where eight species in the tomato genus still grow wild in the Andes Mountains.

During those centuries of cultivation, tomato seeds were saved year after year for next year's crop, allowing the farmer or gardener to choose tomato seeds from plants with particular qualities. For example, seeds were saved from plants that produced an especially good aroma, texture or flavor."

Thus, heirlooms come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, textures and flavors. Some are ugly, bulgy even with cracks in them. Don't judge an heirloom by its cover. Some of the ugly ducklings are the most intesely flavored tomatoes you will ever eat.

By definition, an heirloom must be saved from each season's fruit, "true to type." It must also have been available as a seed variety at least fifty years and each variety must have its own unique history or story.

To celebrate the year's first batch of heirlooms, I sliced up a German Green, a Zebra (green) and a Tigerella Orange. I served these slices with basil leaves, fresh mozzarella slices and a dash of balsamic vinegar and good olive oil.

We also had a cherry tomato tasting. With the selection including sun golds, juliets, sweet chelsea, black plum, black cherry, and garden peach. The small gold ones (garden peach) were so sweet they were more like grapes.

I added herbed goat cheese bolcocinni wrapped in proschutto with a candied walnut (no, nothing local there unless you live in Italy) for appetizers while we waited for the main course: more tomatoes.

My husband in his enthusiasm bought 3 varieties of vine-ripened romas, about 80 of them. The guys roasted up the Romas with herbs and onions, then through the food mill and onto the stove to finish with wine. That sauce (credit Alton Brown) plus some 3-cheese tortellini and we were pretty happy with the outcome of Tomato Fest.

This week's box of tomatoes is HUGE, and tonight's menu calls for a bacon and tomato tart (August Tart) ala Todd English's Olives Cookbook. Ah, he cooks as good as he looks. I had quite the dilemma with him competing against Mario Batali on Iron Chef. Mario prevailed for me and for Iron Chef. There are some fine sounding recipes on his site.

Another blog, but I will write soon about Mr. English's new restaurant, Bluezoo. He has no idea who I am, but I did the Bluezoo web site.

Am planning on another cherry tomato tasting this evening as well. If you have not tried the heirlooms, you should. I highly recommend the tasting approach, adding only some basic herbs and vinagrette, cheese perhaps. Nice light, crisp white wine.

If you are interested in the whole idea of heirloom tomato growing, you can purchase seeds online. Here is just one aptly named site, "Tomato Fest". But don't consider that an endorsement, just the first one that came up for me. Do a Google search and use your best judgement.


Groser Karp said...

If locally available heirloom varieties and cooking techniques intrigue you, Heritage Foods in the Heartland is the theme of the workshops at the 8th Annual Kansas City Food Circle Farmers' Exhibition - maybe we can get the Expatriate Chef to put on a demo there next year...

Saturday, April 1st, 2006

Shawnee (Kansas) Civic Centre

MORE details, flyers and other links...

The Expatriate Chef said...

Only if the demo involves eating. It's what I do best. Sounds like a great event, I'll mark it on my calendar.