Farm & Garden

Heirloom Tomato Time is Now

August 16 2012 - 12:15 PM

Can we please stop talking about heirloom tomatoes? Uh, no.

We’ve been teaching a lot of people to garden this summer with the Peterson Garden Project. I like to ask the new gardeners “Who ISN’T growing tomatoes?” Only one person out of hundreds has raised their hands. But that figures: four out of five people consider tomatoes their favorite homegrown vegetable. And 90 percent of gardeners grow them.

And what’s not to like? Along with the culinary adventure you get a history lesson too. Some were smuggled through Ellis Island in the hems of clothing. Others helped pay off big bills for their hybridizers – thus the term “mortgage lifter.” Tomatoes come in all sizes and colors, and range from the teeny tiny currant tomato to the three-pound monster beefsteaks.

Recently there’s been a cult of heirloom tomato in the media, but a great tasting tomato has been the goal of our country since 1820 when people, somewhat collectively, decided the tomato wasn’t going to make them drop dead even though it was a member of the deadly nighshade family.

Nobody really knows the total count of heirloom tomatoes available today, but the number ranges from 600 to 800 from those brave enough to go on record. That means you can grow an awful lot of varieties in your life and probably never try the same tomato twice.

A particular tomato salad recipe was the tipping point for my husband and me to make the leap from condo living to home ownership. Or, as we like to say, “we bought a yard with a house attached to it.” Planning our own variation of that legendary salad is one of our main goals every summer and when it’s “stacked salad” time, there is great rejoicing. Here’s the recipe–only try it if you’re willing to reconsider your housing situation.

We grow 35 to 40 different types of heirlooms every summer. We squeeze in about 90 plants, although we tell ourselves every year “maybe we’ll cut back this year” – that never seems to work.

Seed Saver’s Exchange has a healthy selection of heirlooms seeds and plants, along with the stories of how they found their way into the SSE collection. Consider this: you can entertain your guests with a tasty history lesson as they’re speechless eating your stacked salad.

–LaManda Joy

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