Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tomato Season is Upon Us with Exciting Heirloom Varieties

Old German, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Yellow Pear
Up in the northern US, it is finally tomato season. The Farmers' Market is now being flooded with produce of all sorts, and tomatoes are making a real splash. Some of the tomatoes I grew from seed a few years ago are now finding their way, along with a lot of other varieties, to a lot of market stands here. Some of these are heirloom, though some are just new hybrids. I grew Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple and Old German. Those, along with others like Mortgage Lifters, Green Grape, Indigo Blueberry, Black Cherry and others are now making the most interesting stands to visit. The colors alone attract with plain old eye-appeal. Once tasted, it is really hard to go back to enjoying a supermarket hybrid. One stand this year is specializing only in these heirloom or similar types of tomatoes and it is the first place I go.

My little crop, picked just last evening
I have no real open space in my current yard where tomatoes would get enough sun, except right smack in the front yard. So this year, my sister-in-law is hosting my tomato plants and a lot of herbs, along with her tomato plants. She has Romas and Early Girl and a few other varieties of red tomatoes. She lives about 6 blocks away, so it gives me an opportunity to go walking, for a good cause. I took a quick walk over there yesterday to pick some herbs to use in a new chicken dish I was creating for dinner, and there were a cluster of Yellow Pear Tomatoes ripened or ripening, so I brought them home with the marjoram, oregano, thyme and rosemary that I had gone there for. She has told me to pick some of the red varieties also, as they are generally more abundant, and I have quite a few Romas in my bowl of fresh tomatoes just now!
From Top: Cherokee Purple, Old German, Green Zebra

Salsa is a popular use for fresh tomatoes. The ingredients are pretty straightforward, though there are lots of possibilities for new mixtures. I mixed up a quick batch of fresh salsa the other morning and used it over my fried eggs. I love salsa over eggs, but obviously it is great as a standard dip with chips. Salsa is wonderful over most "Mexican" style dishes, of course.  Generally green pepper is used in making a salsa, but I had also bought a few very large jalapeno peppers at the Farmers' Market. These really large jalapenos are also usually much less spicy-hot. Instead of green pepper, I just used the large jalapeno, minced. Obviously, green pepper would work perfectly in this salsa, but with only 3 Roma tomatoes, the one large jalapeno made more than enough of a pepper to tomato ratio. This is what I did for my Salsa Fresca (Fresh Salsa):

Salsa Fresca

Salsa Fresca

makes about 1 1/2 cups

3 Roma tomatoes
1 large jalapeno pepper (or 1/2 green pepper), minced finely
1/2 small onion, minced
1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
chopped cilantro, to taste
salt, to taste
2 tablespoons lime juice, or as needed

Dice the tomatoes, removing the wetter seed sections over the sink if you want a less watery salsa. Place the diced tomatoes in a bowl with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Set aside for a few minutes to allow flavors to meld.

BLT on homemade bread
Any tomatoes can be used to make salsa. When there is a glut of cherry tomatoes, I cut them in halves or quarters, depending on their original size. I used a mix of red cherry tomatoes and Yellow Pear tomatoes to make a salsa last summer. Larger tomatoes are just excellent on a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich, most particularly if the bread is freshly made and the bacon is meaty. Avocado is also a wonderful addition to a BLT. Or if you are of the vegetarian persuasion, just make a lettuce and tomato sandwich, adding avocado, sprouts and/or fresh sliced cucumber.

Green Zebra, top, with 4 Green Grape tomatoes
Above I mentioned a variety of tomato called Green Grape tomatoes. I had never seen this type before this summer. They are green, of course, and a small tomato, somewhat like the size of a slightly elongated ping-pong ball. I have Green Zebra tomatoes growing at my sister-in law's house, but they are not ripe yet, so I bought some of those at the market as well as the Green Grape and a Black of Tula. The Black of Tula are similar looking to the Cherokee Purple, with a dark flesh and a wonderful deep smoky flavor.
Old German with large red starburst

Old German is a variety termed heirloom at the local nursery. I grew these a couple of years back and the plant yielded some smaller specimens that were entirely yellow, as well as some that grew very large. The large ones were bright yellow, and at the bottom had a large, red starburst. When cut, the red starburst pattern radiated into the whole tomato. They were most beautiful to behold.

When taking the time to cut and separately taste each of these different varieties of tomatoes, it is obvious they all have very distinct flavors, none of which remotely taste like the bland, red supermarket varieties. I find the Green Zebra have a light, almost citrus-like flavor, while the darker tomatoes like Cherokee Purple or Black of Tula have a deep, smoky-berry like flavor. The red varieties like Mortgage Lifter taste like a red tomato in comparison with these others, but still have most outstanding flavor in comparison to the blandness of supermarket varieties.

In the dead of winter, when the tastebuds have become complacent, these supermarket types of tomato are fine. Once summer hits and the fresh, right-from-the-plant tomatoes are in season, it is time to glory in their magnificence.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.