Heirloom fruits and vegetables a link to the past

Heirloom fruits and vegetables a link to the past

Heirloom fruits and vegetables a link to the past
J&M Farm of Gilroy is among the producers offering heirloom tomatoes at the Concord Farmers Market.

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA — The flavor of a ripe heirloom tomato in mid-summer cannot be surpassed, and many people look forward to their superior quality and taste every year.

A big slab of Cherokee Purple or Brandywine tomato in a sandwich or on a salad tops the list of summer favorites. And an heirloom Charentais melon with a bit of prosciutto is a summer flavor bomb.

Heirloom plants include those that are at least 50 years old, but many are much older. For centuries, farmers have collected seeds from their best-performing and most delicious crops and saved them for future planting – thus preserving their quality, flavor and hardiness.

These fruits and vegetables differ from hybrid (or conventionally grown) plants because of their age and method of pollination. Heirlooms rely on open pollination by insects, birds and the wind to produce seeds. This ensures that heirloom seeds produce plants that are true to type: Each plant will have the same size, growth habit, color and flavor as its predecessor.

Intense flavor

Heirlooms come from seeds that have been selected for intense flavor, tenderness and visual appeal. They are harvested at peak ripeness, rather than underripe for transport. As a result, they are more perishable but have a superior taste. It’s important to note that you should never refrigerate tomatoes because it diminishes the texture and flavor.

Here’s a look at some popular heirlooms:

Tomatoes: Common types with long histories include Brandywine (pinkish red), Cherokee Purple (deep reddish-purple), Green Zebra (striped light and dark green) and Jubilee (yellow).

Summer squash: Pattypans (rippled edges), Fordhook zucchini (medium green), Eight Ball or Globe (round) and Yellow Crookneck (bulbous yellow with narrow neck) are all old varieties.

Eggplant: Black Beauty (deep purple), Rosa Bianca (mottled pink/white), Long Purple (long narrow purple) and Casper White (white and narrow) are some of the colorful heirloom eggplants.

Melons: Netted Gem (netted rind), Charentais (cantaloupe-like) and Garden Lemon (bright yellow oval) offer amazingly sweet flavor and gorgeous colors.

Peak ripeness

At the Concord Farmers Market, local growers offer a wider range of heirlooms that they pick at peak ripeness. They also sell a range of varieties not found elsewhere.

Bautista Ranch coming from Stockton has amazing heirloom tomatoes like Green Zebra, German Pink, Brandywine and Cherokee Purple. J&J Ramos of Hughson will have Charentais, Ambrosia and Juan Canary heirloom melons to enjoy. FT Fresh out of Fresno offers Black Beauty heirloom eggplants and heirloom summer squash such as Eight Ball and Pattypan.

Heirloom fruits and vegetables provide a glimpse into a time when crops were grown for flavor and valued for their hardiness. Visit your local farmers market and find a taste of summers’ past.

Simply Delicious Caprese Salad

  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes of different colors
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6-8 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil leaves

Slice tomatoes thickly and salt and pepper to taste. Plate alternately with mozzarella cheese slices. Sprinkle basil leaves over the tomatoes and cheese, more or less to taste. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Visit pcfma.org/eat for more great recipes.