My great grandmother used to can food. Lots of food. Great food. Shortly after she passed, we went up to their house again for a family reunion. In the basement, we found mason jars full of apple butter, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and all manner of things. So we ate. As we did, three generations shared stories of my great grandmother. It was like sharing one more meal with her, prepared with love for her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Thinking back on that time, I realized how wonderful it would be if people could pass down food like they pass down more traditional heirlooms. Food is such a big part of our lives and cultures that it would be amazing to hand that down. People can hand down recipes, but there are some families that hand down something a bit more tangible: seeds.
Heirloom tomatoes fall into four categories based on various requirements, and one of these is the family heirloom category. The seeds of these tomatoes are actually passed down from generation to generation. Personally, I find the idea of being able to pass down something that’s both nutritional and delicious is insanely cool. Not all heirloom tomatoes fall into this particular category, but they all have benefits that make you want to eat them.
When mentioning benefits of foods, I feel obligated to talk about health benefits, and heirloom tomatoes possess many. But right now, I’d like to focus less on why you should eat them, and more on why you want to eat them. Nutrition is an important part of food, but it’s not the only part. Nutrition is good, but flavor is fun.
And heirloom tomatoes are packed with it. Lots of people say heirloom tomatoes taste better, and I agree. But I’d argue that heirlooms also have more taste. This is a good thing. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had tomatoes that taste like, well, not much. When you cut a tomato and pop a chunk in your mouth without salt and still have a taste experience, that’s an experience I can get behind.
Anyone who likes to dip corn dogs in ketchup and mustard mixed together knows that how something looks isn’t the most important aspect in enjoying food, but aesthetics can add a nice touch to the experience. If this was untrue, more than half the pictures on Instagram would be of something besides food. The richness and variety of color in heirloom tomatoes adds a nice element to food with fresh tomatoes, and cooking with tomatoes of more than one color adds a depth to the color and flavor. I generally love all tomatoes and wouldn’t want to make a derisive comment about any of them, but one may wonder if produce looks a little too uniform like it was made in a factory by some kind of robot.
Another wonderful aspect of heirloom tomatoes is that many of them are less acidic than other varieties. Fellow sufferers of heartburn can rejoice with me about this. Heirloom tomatoes might not be a part of your family history, but there might be a tomato heavy recipe that is. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t make any guarantees, but it definitely seems worth a shot.
Another great thing about heirloom tomatoes is that by eating them, you may be doing a small part to prevent famine and disaster. You probably think I’m joking. The genetic diversity of heirloom tomatoes includes resistances to disease and infestation, and with decreased genetic diversity in produce, our food sources become susceptible to these on an increasingly larger scale. By supporting farmers that grow genetically diverse produce, you help fight genetic erosion among our food sources that increase the risk of large scale food shortages, all the while getting the benefit of a unique and enjoyable taste experience.
Heirloom tomatoes are a cool way to bring together history, tradition, and diversity in a flavorful way. This may sound goofy, but it reminds me of a time in first grade when I failed a primary color assignment because I used cerulean, burgundy, and goldenrod instead of the crayons labeled blue, red, and yellow. Maybe I’m thinking like a first grader, but does a crayon company get to dictate which shade of blue is the ‘real’ blue? Who gets to say which shade of tomato is the right one?
While cooking with heirloom tomatoes is a great idea, one should definitely experience heirloom tomatoes fresh, so I’ll leave you with a simple, yet delicious, recipe for Caprese salad:
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and Pepper
Slice the tomato (depending on the size, you may need to halve or quarter the slices). Top each piece with a slice of mozzarella cheese, followed by oil and vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Finish it off with chopped basil. For a fun twist you can pick up, split and lightly toast some whole grain rolls or buns. Rub these with a clove of garlic and place one of your Caprese salad slices in the middle. Viola. You’ve just turned your Caprese salad to Caprese sliders.