Heirloom TomatoesThe heirloom tomatoes you eat today closely resemble their ancestors hundreds of years ago.
The Heirloom Tomato's Quirky History
What makes an heirloom tomato? Some are shaped like peppers, are small like a cherry, or can weigh two pounds. They are dark purple, black, striped, green, orange, yellow, and pink. Indeed, some are red. Seeds of a tomato do not easily cross-breed and will produce plants resembling the parents. Early cultivars did not change much because of this property and were kept in a family or community for long periods of time, thus earning the name heirlooms. Some varieties available today have been passed on for a hundred-plus years.
Names of heirloom cultivars often read like a bizarre hints to a deeper tale: Omar’s Lebanese, Black Krim (Russia), Bloody Butcher (unknown), Amish Paste, Stupice (Czech Republic), Hillbilly (W. V.), Money Maker (England), Tommy Toe (Ozarks), Boxcar Willie (origin unknown, as might be expected), Mortgage Lifter (US), plus Missouri’s own Missouri Pink Love Apple. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds of Mansfield, Missouri, lists this cultivar as big, pink, and very rich-tasting, “It was grown since the Civil war by the Barnes family, who grew it as an ornamental, believing (as many people did at the time) that tomatoes or ‘love apples’ were poisonous.”
Heirlooms carry unique genetics and often have an interesting history. For instance, Polish is a cultivar said to have been smuggled into the US on the back of a postage stamp in the late 1800s. Mortgage Lifter is said to have been developed in the 1930s Depression by farmer who claimed one plant would feed a family of six. He sold the plants for one dollar each until, after six years, he paid off his mortgage.
The tomato: heroic and tasty.
Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
Recipe courtesy of Mike Odette at Sycamore in Columbia, Mo.
3 pounds heirloom tomatoes, diced (about 2 quarts)
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced small (about 2 cups)
½ medium onion, diced small (about 1 cup)
2 ribs celery, diced small (about 1 cup)
1 quart bottled tomato juice
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Combine all ingredients in a one-gallon, non-
reactive (plastic, glass, or stainless) container,
such as a pitcher. Using an immersion blender,
zap the gazpacho a few times until desired
consistency is reached. Gazpacho may be
served smooth, like a beverage, or chunky
Nina Furstenau teaches food writing in the Science and Agricultural Journalism program at the University of Missouri. She is the author of Savor Missouri, River Hill Country Food and Wine and Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland. In addition to this blog, she writes “A Spiced Life” for the Columbia Tribune.