They come in cherry, globe and beefsteak. They exhibit a multitude of colors including red, green, yellow, brown, purple, pink and even stripes. They have peculiar names (Cherokee Purple, Lollipop, Green Zebra, Caspian Pink, Yellow Brandywine and Kellogg's Breakfast, just to name a few). And they're in season now!
Heirloom tomatoes—varieties that have valued characteristics and thus have been passed down through several generations—have been gaining in popularity in recent years, not only because of their beautiful and unique appearance (which can make them a showstopper at any meal), but because their dense flesh and full delicious flavour bears no comparison to modern cultivars. So if the opportunity arises, be sure to get your hands on some ripe and local varieties – I assure you, you will taste nothing fresher or purer. These are just a sample of some of the amazing varieties—from purple-black to bi-coloured—that can be found at your local farmers’ market or store, plus a simple and delicious recipe
Note: In southern and eastern Ontario, this year’s crop of heirloom tomatoes is failing because of the late blight fungus, the same fungus that caused the Irish potato famine in the 1800s. The low supply of this much sought-after crop is driving up prices.
Purple – Black Varieties
Cherokee Purple: Cherokee Purple tomatoes are beefsteak in style and have become increasingly popular not only for their magnificent colour, but for their undeniable sweetness as well. They are a dusky rose, purple-coloured fruit with a deep burgundy interior and a hint of green striping across the top. Absolutely delicious, they are celebrated for having a dense and juicy texture and an incredibly sweet and rich flavor.
Black Zebra: A stunning tomato, the Black Zebra has a solid burgundy-coloured inner flesh encased in a dark mahogany exterior which is flecked with jagged green stripes. It is a rich and complex variety, described as sweet, smoky, earthy and juicy. A natural and stabilized cross between the well known Green Zebra and a black tomato, it is a striking addition to any meal.
Black Krim: A.k.a. the Black Crimson, this distinctive mahogany-coloured tomato is a medium-sized beefsteak variety. Originally from Crimea on the Black Sea, it has a slightly salty taste which makes it ideal for those trying to minimize additional salt in their diet. With a dependably rich and succulent flavour, it is absolutely perfect simply sliced and drizzled with good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Yellow – Orange Varieties
Lemony / Limmony: Originating from Russia, Lemony has become an increasingly popular heirloom variety found throughout North America. Unlike most yellow varieties which are often mild, this medium-sized light-yellow beefsteak tomato is packed with a full-bodied, sweet and tangy flavour. A favourite amoung farmers market growers, it imparts a wonderful citrusy zestiness to any late summer salad.
Yellow Brandywine: The original Brandywine heirloom is one of the most popular and well-known varieties available due to its superb flavour profile. One of its many sub-varieties, the yellow brandywine, is characterized by a creamy texture and a rich and mouth-watering flavour. Exceptional in quality, these hardy tomatoes are round and smooth with a pale to medium light yellow colour.
Persimmon: This lovely peach-orange coloured beefsteak variety is rumoured to be originally cultivated by Thomas Jefferson. Described as creamy, rich and fleshy, it contains minimal amounts of seeds and exhibits a perfectly balanced acid-to-sugar ratio. This globe-shaped heirloom has a plump, velvety and smooth skin. Very dependable, it is ideal for slicing due to its small seed cavity and solid meaty texture.
Big Zebra: One of the most unusual tomatoes you might ever come across, the Big Zebra is red and green-striped with a green and pink-striped interior. Delectably sweet and robust, these showstoppers are amazing sliced and added to sandwiches or salads and make a fabulous topping for your burger.
Oaxancan Jewel: Golden-yellow skin with blush-coloured streaks cascading through it, these beautiful tomatoes live up to their name. They exhibit a mild, refreshing and fruity flavour profile, somewhat reminiscent of a melon. With beautiful marbling throughout, this tomato is gorgeous when sliced and layered between thick slices of buffalo mozzarella and freshly torn basil leaves.
Red - Pink Varieties
Julia Child: Named after the culinary icon, Julia Child, these tomatoes have a deep pink hue and a somewhat fluted shape. A firm, juicy flesh gives way to a robust and powerful tomato flavour. A high level of acidity and earthiness balances the underlying sweet and fruity flavours. Interchangeable with many common tomatoes, they are a fabulous addition roughly chopped into salads.
Ox Heart: Ox Heart is a heart-shaped pink tomato of medium size. It has an old-fashioned look and flavour which makes it popular among growers. A meaty flesh with minimal seeds makes it a great choice for slicing and adding to any sandwich or salads.
Heirloom Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella Salad
3 Tbsp (45 mL) Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
1 Tbsp (15 mL) Dijon mustard
1 tsp (5 mL) sugar 2 tsp (10 mL) sea salt
1 tsp (5 mL) fresh cracked black pepper
½ cup (125 mL) extra virgin olive oil, very good quality
5 lbs mixed heirloom tomatoes
1 large buffalo mozzarella, sliced, or 1 cup mini bocconcini
1 cup (250 mL) small or torn basil leaves
1. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon, sugar, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in olive oil in a steady slow stream, while continuing to whisk, until emulsified.
2. Chop tomatoes into large wedges or leave small ones whole. Place in a large bowl. Drizzle in vinaigrette and gently toss to combine. Tear buffalo mozzarella into bite size pieces.
3. Turn out into a large bowl and intermingle tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella. Scatter basil leaves allover and season again with salt and pepper. Perfect simple food.