Friday, July 24, 2015

heirloom tomatoes 101

heirloom tomatoes are everywhere right now: all over pinterest, in all the foodie magazines, and of course, at your local farmer’s market. but what is it about these particular tomatoes that sets them apart from all the others besides their quirky instagramable goodness? i asked swamp rabbit cafe, and they happily gave me a crash course in heirloom tomatoes 101:

whats in a name and where do these guys typically come from?
‘heirloom' refers to old varieties of tomatoes — the ones that were around before hybridization starting blending varieties together. some have been around since late 1800's, and the kind you see at your grocery stores & farmer's markets vary regionally. they're often grown from seeds passed down through families for decades, just like the name implies. 

so, whos growing them around greenville?
lots of people! iszy's heirlooms, mini miracles, greenbrier, limestone farms, and blue moon, just to name a few. plenty of home gardeners, too.

when is heirloom season? 
all summer! they've truly taken it over. some say the season starts as early as the last frost, and some varieties, 'indeterminate' ones, produce all the way to the first frost of winter. ‘determinate' varieties produce a single crop all at once, which gives you the perfect excuse to have a salsa party! 

what makes them so ‘ugly’? that’s a face only a mother (or seasoned eater) could love. 
there's a reason heirlooms are called 'ugly' so affectionately — they lack a mutation quality present in commercial tomatoes which makes them uniform in color (and taste.) because of this, we get to enjoy a full spectrum of tomatoey flavor — sweet, smoky, peppery, tangy — inside all those funky gnarls. 

which leads right into the next question — how do you recommend slicing heirlooms? 
always use a serrated knife, so as not to smush it. trim off the stem and any woody tissue, and remove any insect damage that may be present (and perfectly harmless) on organic varieties. coring it before slicing helps, too. 

does red mean ripe? it seems like there are a million colors and kinds. 
with heirlooms, the feel is a better indicator of ripeness than the color. very green and hard is standard for the unripe, of course, but as heirlooms ripen, they can take on hues of white, purple, red, orange, and yellow. ever seen a white wonder? their flesh streaks with light green, white, and yellow as they ripen. 

heirlooms can be pretty large, how long do they usually keep for?
if you purchase them firm, you've got a couple days to spare. soft ones should be eaten right away, and never refrigerated. it destroys their flavor and makes the texture mealy. once they begin to soften, you've got about 3 days to make it happen. if you end up with too many ripe ones too quickly, make gazpacho! 

what are your favorite ways to serve heirlooms to show off their flavors?
sliced with salt is hard to beat, but varieties of cherry heirlooms can be halved and tossed with watermelon, feta cheese, and fresh mint for a zingy, seriously refreshing salad. bigger guys are at their very best when sliced thinly and layered into a stained glass window of color inside a buttery pie crust, topped with fresh basil, mayonnaise and cheese betwixt the layers...all hail the tomato pie!

a big thank you to the swamp rabbit team for sharing their expertise! and if you don’t make it out to the td saturday market or the tr farmers market tomorrow, swamp rabbit cafe and grocery is having a sale with local heirlooms only $1.99 per pound.

images via swamp rabbit cafe


  1. We have a TON of tomatoes this season, and it has been tomato sandwiches all the way. Either the plain - just a little salt, a little pepper, a little Duke's, two slices of white bread.

    Or we've been having them as fantastic BLT's with sourdough, bacon, arugula, and (of course) still a little Duke's.

    Swamp Rabbit definitely has had some seriously delicious heirlooms this year - plus the sales of them are great right now.

    1. ohhh that BLT sounds amazing. sourdough and arugula are two of my faves, but not sure i ever would have thought of putting them together. thanks for sharing, katie!