Sunday, August 12, 2007

Heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are starting to appear in farmer's markets and groceries stores. I became interested in why these tomatoes are so special, besides the fact that they taste wonderful and so I did some research.

Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated and are not genetically modified like many of the tasteless tomatoes in the produce section of the grocery store. This means that these seeds are saved for many generations and passed from gardener to gardener. Hybrids, on the other hand, are the onetime product of a forced cross pollination. The cross is meant to generically modify the tomatoes so that they survive long, cross country trips to your local market. This cross usually is done at the expense of taste of the tomato. This means farmers have to keep purchasing the hybrid varieties' seeds (such as Burpee Big Boy or Beefsteak tomatoes) each year. Guess who makes money on this deal?

Heirlooms are self-fertilizing tomatoes that come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and flavors. And actually, heirloom tomatoes are a broad term for these types of tomatoes which include: Big Rainbow (or Hillbilly), Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Taxi, and Mortage Lifter, just to name a few of the many varieties. Heirlooms thrive on natural selection and reproduce specimens that show the best characteristics of their generation.

A few other tomato facts:
  • Tomatoes are native to the Americas and the Aztecs and Incas were cultivating them as early as 700 A.D.
  • The original Aztec word for "tomato" was "tomatl."
  • Tomatoes were the first genetically engineered food approved by the US FDA. It was all downhill from there!
  • Hothouse tomatoes represent nearly one-fourth of the retail tomato market in the U.S.
  • You better get your heirloom tomatoes while you can! The season lasts from July to October.

Here is a quick and easy salad that brings out the beautiful flavors of these fresh and natural tomatoes.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

3 lbs of heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges or 1/2 inch dice

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1/2 tbsp Djion mustard

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegars, mustard, salt, and pepper. Slowly stream and whisk in the olive oil until emlusified. Place your cut tomatoes in a large bowl and toss with the dressing and serve immediately.

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