We found a great basket at a yard sale – the small kind that you find at any supermarket when you don’t want an entire cart. These are great for picking into, and surprisingly hard to find for sale! Well, we put it to good use this morning and picked somewhere close to 100 pounds of tomatoes, probably more! So now, as I write this, the aroma of Italy is wafting through our house as fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, rosemary, and jalapenos (all fresh from our garden) meld together into culinary bliss! As for the other 140 pounds of tomatoes, well, they’re still out in the garden shed waiting for a loving home, so come on by and claim them!
A customer recently asked me if we had tomatoes… Oh my, do we have tomatoes. He had no idea what he was looking for really, but had been sent by his wife to get something red and round, known as ‘tomatoes.’ “Well,” I explained, “we have slicing, sauce, or heirloom tomatoes” (I was assuming that his wife had not sent him to get cherry tomatoes, and hence had left that one out).
“What’s the difference?” He asked. He is not the first to ask this, so with our abundance of tomatoes on hand, I thought we should take a moment to explain what exactly is the difference between all of those you see on the shelf, and what you might be able to concoct from each of them:
- Slicing tomatoes – These are your standard, ‘I just want a sandwich’ tomatoes. They’re juicy, and taste good. They’re also great to serve sliced (we like them with mayonnaise or cottage cheese on them). We must note that these are hybrid tomatoes, NOT GMO. Hybrid simply means that they have been bred for a certain trait, such as predictable size, disease resistance, color, etc. GMO means that the actual genetic code has been changed in the DNA in order to include attributes taken from another species. None of our products are GMO, nor have they been in the past.
- Heirloom tomatoes – These are your fancy tomatoes, fullest in flavor, called ‘heirloom’ because they are of a variety that has been handed down for generations. They are your truest tomato out there, not hybrid, (crossed for any special features, such as size, good looks, disease resistance, ability to be shipped, perfect skin, etc…). Heirlooms have made a big comeback in recent years. My guess for this is because people are becoming much more leery of what is being done to their food, and wanting to go back to the ‘good ol’ days’ when food was still good for you; no genetically modified organisms, no pesticides or herbicides, and no crazy other unknown factors. The mindset behind this might be summed up by “Just quit messing with our food!” So, the heirloom tomatoes have not been ‘messed with.’ Another reason they’ve made the comeback is because of their unbeatable flavor. Because they haven’t been crossed and specially bred, they retain their fantastic flavor, which is probably why these specific breeds have been passed down through the generations in the first place (thus the name ‘heirloom’). On the downside, they don’t hold as long or as well, and often come in funny shapes or colors. Then again, the colors and shapes can be a lot of fun too!
We have a few different kinds of heirloom tomatoes this year: momotaros, chocolates, and brandywine.
- The momotaros are a pretty pink color, and a firmer tomato with great flavor! They are a Japanese tomato, and are very sweet. They aren’t typically quite as big as the other tomatoes.
- Cherokee Chocolates are (naturally) a darker color, and have some stripes to them. They are a very juicy tomato, and often grow very large, and in some funny shapes. They also have really great flavor.
- Brandywines look most similar to a regular tomato, but might still have some green stripes on the shoulders. There are about 7 different types of brandywines. We chose this particular variety because it has less wrinkles.
- Sauce tomatoes – These tomatoes are oblong, with a pointed end. They are not nearly as juicy as the other tomatoes, which lends them to making thicker sauces, and to lasting a bit longer than your other tomatoes. We love to use these tomatoes to make marinara and salsa . We also like to dry them, and feel like ours turn out every bit as good (and better) than those fancy ‘sun dried tomatoes’ you buy in the jars.
- Canning tomatoes – These are mostly slicing tomatoes, but may include some heirlooms as well. Pretty much, the canning tomatoes are the catch-all for the tomatoes that are either small, split while they were growing, or are just not pretty or normal for whatever reason! They still taste great, and are (obviously) great for canning! We definitely appreciate having our own canned tomatoes to throw into some spaghetti sauce or Kashmiri lamb – those great winter time crock pot recipes! Another point that sets these tomatoes apart from the rest is the price. These we sell at half the price as regular slicing tomatoes, for only $.50/lb, but they must go by the box!
- Cherry tomatoes – We actually have golden cherry tomatoes instead of the cherry red ones. The color may not be as bright, but we love these ones for their flavor as well. They are great as a snack all on their own, or in salads. Our little farm-girl-in training is responsible for picking these this year, and all of the proceeds are being stowed away into her ‘college fund.’ 🙂 She is always thrilled to sell you some!