Some heirloom tomato varieties hardly resemble tomatoes at all. That’s what one might think, anyway. The truth is that only in the last hundred years did tomatoes become so uniformly round, and red, and (Let’s admit it!) often flavorless. That’s all changed, of course. Americans have rediscovered (thanks to hard-working small farmers) how to embrace seasonality, and a desire to experience the full range of what tomatoes can really taste like. Heirloom tomatoes come in all manner of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. When displayed together, their diversity gives them an almost comedic presence. Unless your parents or grandparents grew them in the garden, it is likely you’ve never even encountered such a wonderful thing as these. And I do mean wonderful.
The first thing you have to know is that heirloom varieties require a different approach to eating them. They’re hardly ever round. Some of them can be very misshapen. On occasion, the flesh can even grow up and over the woody blossom-end, making any kind of uniform slices impossible. This means that the fruit requires an additional three to four maneuvers with a knife. As silly as this sounds, it is often one of the reasons people avoid buying them. Who wants to dig through all that tomato for odd inedible bits?
Yet the work can be very rewarding. In my opinion, it doesn’t much matter what shape they’re cut into. Heirloom tomatoes can be enjoyed all by themselves, or dressed simply with a high quality red wine vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil, possibly accompanied with a mild soft cheese or basil. A pinch of salt does well to bring out their brilliance. If I were to describe an ideal scenario for consuming them, I would buy three to six varieties and eat them side by side, allowing myself time to experience the fullness of each fruit independently. Treat the experience with a sense of wonder and curiosity. Who knows what you’ll discover…
One thing to keep in mind when sampling tomatoes is that tomato flavor is really complicated. In essence, each fruit has a unique blend of sugars, acids, and volatiles (or smells) which determine how they taste. Like so many foods, a superior flavor begins with a good balance of all these dimensions. Even ice cream is balanced with a touch of salt. However, most of what we perceive as flavor is actually aroma. Those volatile compounds have the biggest impact on taste.
Edward Behr reminds us that “The very best tomatoes ripen at the height of the season. They spend more time on the plant and accumulate more flavor during the summer’s heat without being diminished by the cool fall.” And, “If all the desirable forces of moisture, nutrients, and care coincide, the fruit is sweeter and more intensely aromatic than the standard North American garden tomato.”
The challenges Heirloom tomatoes face when being shipped are precisely the same reason most heirloom tomatoes sold in stores are superior than other (more shippable) varieties. There’s a good chance any heirloom you buy has been grown locally.
For many years Wolff’s has been gathering the best locally grown heirloom varieties from Pennsylvania and Delaware. This year is no different. Right now we’re bringing in many different varieties, including Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Big Rainbow, and Brandywine. Besides their beautiful colors, each one offers a slightly different flavor profile.
I suggest trying Big Rainbow or Orange Russian. Not only are they pretty to look at, and deliciously balanced, they lend themselves well to all kinds of recipes.
Spiced Tomato-Tequila Ice Pops
2. Combine tomatoes, tequila, lime juice, hot sauce, salt, and syrup in a large bowl and stir until well combined.
3. If using conventional molds, divide the mixture among the molds, snap on the lid, and freeze until solid, about 5 hours. If using glasses or other unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set ( 1 1/2 to 2 hours),
then insert the sticks
and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. If using an instant ice pop maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- 1 cup Water
- ⅔ cup Sugar
- 2 cups pureed ripe tomatoes (about 5 tomatoes)
- ⅓ cup silver or blanco Tequila
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 3 limes)
- 3 tablespoons Hot Sauce (choose brand that is not too vinegary)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil an the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
- Combine the tomatoes, tequila, lime juice, hot sauce, salt, and syrup in a large bowl and stir until well combined.
- If using conventional molds, divide mixture among the molds, snap on the lid, and freeze until solid, about 5 hours. If using glasses or other unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (1½ to 2 hours), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. If using an instant ice pop maker, follow he manufacturer's instructions.