We recently stopped and shopped till we dropped at a local field stand where I bought a number of beautifully colored heirloom tomatoes, and as I’ve eaten them I’ve made mental notes about which varieties I’d like to grow myself next year.
Simply stated, an heirloom vegetable is an old variety which has not been hybridized. Some consider anything prior to 1951 an heirloom. That was the year the first hybrids became available. For others, such as myself, a true heirloom is one at least closely approaching 100 years old, and some can be documented up to 150 years ago.
Heirloom vegetables are as close as possible to what our ancestors ate at a certain time period – they neither look nor taste like modern hybrid varieties. The flavor is so much better in an heirloom that it truly is worth paying more for seeds, but don’t expect a perfectly shaped vegetable. Perfection in shape and color came with a price – loss of flavor. An heirloom tomato may be knobby and gnarled but I guarantee you it won’t taste like red Styrofoam.
Today’s lunch was a Mr. Stripey sliced with some fresh cucumbers also purchased from the field stand. Delicious!
Last night’s dinner was grilled cheese sandwiches with cream of tomato soup made from some of the red heirlooms and flavored with a bit of fresh thyme from the pot growing right outside my kitchen door. It was absolutely scrumptious, and made, start to finish, in about 30 minutes. Who needs fast food? [The recipe for the soup is in my book, Soup Through the Ages, see book shoppe at the top of the blog page]
My family judiciously saved seed from a tomato variety my great aunts’ mother brought from Germany in the late 1800’s so that every summer we had a supply of seed for those luscious beauties. The aunts called it the German Pink – I don’t know whether it was the same German Pink offered by heirloom seed companies today, but if not, it was pretty darn close.
Whenever we cut one of the tomatoes the few seeds in it were taken out and placed onto a slightly damp paper towel and left to dry so they could be stored away for the next year’s planting.
I prefer a more acidic than sweet tomato so after careful contemplation, I think the seeds I will order for next year are:
Cherokee Purple – deep red, full flavored, and rumored to come from Cherokee gardens. These are what went into my soup.
Mr. Stripey – it looked so beautiful in my salad with its yellow body and red streaks.
Red Zebra – because it too, is absolutely beautiful sliced onto a plate or on a sandwich.
German Pink – I’ll relive childhood memories of warm summer afternoons at my Nanny’s with a glass of sweet tea and a tomato sandwich slathered in mayo. For a Southern girl it doesn’t get much better.
Seed Sources: Baker Creek, Burpee, Jung, Heirloomseeds.com, Seed Savers Exchange, and a quick internet search will yield others, but I’m not familiar with their quality.
Blissful Meals yall, TheHistoricFoodie©