Chow Town

Tomatoes: Heirloom vs. regular

This last week I was asked, “What’s the big deal with an heirloom tomato?”

It is a simple question, but hasn’t really been explained.

First nothing compares to a local tomato no mater what varietal — big red slicers, cherry tomatoes, or the funky looking heirlooms. All just taste better when they are grown close to home.

When looking for something to throw on at the beginning of the day, one rifles throughout their closet, finding what fits the personality.

Do I need to be cute, serious, relaxed and whimsical or work in the yard? These are several questions that pass through every woman’s mind on a daily basis.

Well imagine if the only articles of clothing in your closet were work clothes. Yes they fit well, you are comfortable, but there is something missing when you walk into a party with them on.

Apply this to the tomato varietals. All are wonderful, but taste and feel so different. It is which mood you are in — tart and tangy, velvety soft, mild, or sweet like butterscotch. With all these different flavors one is allowed to accessorize their choice with arugula, strawberries, herbs and different cheeses.

So if clothes are clothes why aren’t tomatoes just tomatoes?

The term “heirloom” came about from Professor William Hepler at the University of New Hampshire, when describing a species of bean. From there it exploded to describe varieties of items, which have seemed to get lost by human natural selection.

At some point we the consumer asked for an exact tomato, 4-inch Ruby Red with no blemish all year long. Thus began the downfall of all the beautiful varieties of tomatoes, which accentuate our plates.

Each heirloom varietal actually evolves and has a natural selection of it’s own and holds an inherent uniqueness that happens to resist disease. They also have the ability to adapt to their dramatic environment. A plant that can protect itself and taste good naturally, I like this concept!

There are four basic types;

• Commercial — open pollinated varieties introduced before 1940.

• Family — seeds that have been saved and passed down through generations of families.

• Created Heirlooms — two heirlooms bred together or one heirloom and one hybrid.

• Mystery — the tomato is left to it’s own devices and naturally cross pollinates in good old nature.

They may be ugly or beautifully ugly, but play dress up with your next tomato choices and you may find a favorite.

Renee Kelly is the owner of Renee Kelly’s Harvest in Johnson County. Her passion lies in changing the food system, one plate at a time. Her inspiration is Mother nature and the many growers in the Kansas City area.