Heirloom Tomatoes

Originally Published January 2003

A belated Happy New Year to you all (or should I say y’all, as this letter comes from Texas). As the new year begins, we tend to reflect upon our place in the world and, perhaps, our plans for the future. Here at The Herb Cottage, I’ve got a good start on cuttings and seeded crops for the coming season. In the south, the growing season for most vegetables is actually very short because, after a short spring, the weather quickly gets too hot and/or humid for vegetable plants to produce much.

Tomatoes are the #1 vegetable grown in today’s vegetable gardens. And why not? They are a sign of summer, aren’t they? Many people compete with neighbors to see who can raise the first tomato of the season. Personally, my treat is the first BLT sandwich with our own tomatoes and homemade white bread. Usually our lettuce has already bolted for the season by the time the tomatoes are ripe, so I have to settle for store bought lettuce. But, that first bite of the tangy, salty sandwich is heaven to me.

Heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable seedlings are grown by gardeners worldwide because it’s important to be able to save your own seeds, if you so choose. If you grow the same variety from saved seed for several seasons in your garden, most vegetable varieties will become better adapted to your area. If you live in Mississippi, the tomatoes you grow from saved seed will be better adapted to the humid conditions there. If your soil is less than perfect, the varieties you grow from saved seed will do better each year. You can share seed with your neighbors and local gardeners with the knowledge the plants will do extremely well in your area.

Another reason I like the heirloom tomatoes is diversity. Who ever decided tomatoes had to be red? There are delicious and interesting tomatoes of other colors. Plum Lemon, a bright yellow plum tomato, makes golden salsa and sauces with a mild tomato flavor. Garden Peach and Tangerine are yellow and orange varieties of medium size slicers to add interest and a mild taste to a salad to tomato plate. Cherokee Purple is a dark rose color inside and out. The flavor is rich and sweet. Purple Calabash looks like a little purple pumpkin with its deep ridges. Sliced crosswise, the scalloped edges are very decorative.

Cherry tomatoes come in all colors, too, perfect for snacking. Gold Nugget is a sweet, golden type on a somewhat compact vine. Green Grape is a grape-type tomato, very sweet, that stays green even when ripe and grows on a short, sturdy plant. Imagine a bowl filled with Gold Nugget, Green Grape and Isis Candy, a red variety with faint yellow stripes. What a picture! And, so tasty. Continue reading “Heirloom Tomatoes”