An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, or (especially in the UK) heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during the earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing on popularity in the United States and Europe over the last decade.
-From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Last night we harvested our first homegrown heirloom tomato! Although this is only our second year of having a vegetable garden, my husband and I have really gotten into the whole experience and have been trying different varieties of vegetables testing to see what works, what doesn’t, and what starts better from seed or by plant.
Last year, we planted half of our vegetables by seed and the other half by plants from the nursery. The plants produced much faster than the seedlings, so we decided to plant entirely by nursery plants this year. I realized, at bit too late, that heirlooms are difficult to find in nurseries but are much easier to obtain by seed.
Needless to say, I planted seven varieties of tomatoes this year; one Roma, one Cherry, one called “Forest Fire,” two called “Oregon Spring,” and the only heirloom variety I could find, “Mr. Stripey.”
Since June we have been feasting off the Cherry tomatoes, the Oregon Springs and Forest Fire. The Roma took a bit longer but we finally got some in the beginning of July. All of these were quite good, although the Roma was a bit mealy, but perhaps that’s why it is a cooking tomato!
The heirloom variety took the longest to ripen, although it starting fruiting at the same time as the others. Finally, one looked like it was about ready. My husband would give me daily reports on its progress. We both had tasted heirlooms before but had never had one of our own. And, as far as we could tell, our homegrown hybrids tasted better than the heirlooms we had had.
Finally it looked ready! I decided a simple salad caprese would work best. I used the one heirloom along with a variety of our hybrids Dressed in a simple white wine vinaigrette and fresh mozzarella, the tomatoes even looked eager to be eaten!
We realized after only a few bites that there really wasn’t any competition at all! The heirloom won us over with a decidedly more delicate, sweet taste. I was also struck by undertones of a mineral quality. It was as though the tomato itself was vaguely translating the earth it had come from, making it its own. In contrast, it made the other tomatoes taste much more acidic and sharp, much less nuanced.
After dinner last night, we are converts. I am going to plan early, order seeds and plant as many heirloom varieties as I can find and have room for. It is amazing to me how just a little plot of ground can yield so much: so much food, so much knowledge, and so much happiness. I look at Babou as she picks her favorite (Cherry tomatoes) and am completely fulfilled; she too will have amongst her earliest memories the indescribable scent of tomatoes.
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