Tomato Sass

Farmer Ted is proud of his little media darlings, those photogenic tomatoes.

Greenbranch Farm has quickly become a media darling, it appears. At least in Salisbury. We were on the front page of the Daily Times on July 19th, and the same article made the front page of the Wicomico Weekly on July 28th. In both cases, it was the tomatoes, in their picturesque glory, that captured the headlines.

We have had many new visitors to the market since then, and many of them want to know what, exactly, is an heirloom tomato? I’m going to quote another website’s definition that seems to be clearest on the issue: “An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of it’s valued characteristics.” Further, they can be broken down into several categories, according to tomato experts, Craig LeHoullier and Carolyn Male.

  1. Commercial Heirlooms: Open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940, or tomato varieties more than 50 years in circulation.
  2. Family Heirlooms: Seeds that have been passed down for several generations through a family.
  3. Created Heirlooms: Crossing two known parents (either two heirlooms or an heirloom and a hybrid) and dehybridizing the resulting seeds for how ever many years/generations it takes to eliminate the undesirable characteristics and stabilize the desired characteristics, perhaps as many as 8 years or more.
  4. Mystery Heirlooms: Varieties that are a product of natural cross-pollination of other heirloom varieties.

(Note: All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirloom varieties.

The important thing about heirlooms is their flavor. And to see what that means, you’ll just have to try some.

Striped German heirloom tomato.

Greenbranch is growing several varieties of heirloom tomatoes. You’ll forgive me for not having my own pictures available, but my camera battery died yesterday when I was all set to prepare for this post. So theses images are borrowed from “the web.”

A Brandywine heirloom tomato, of which there are several varieties.

Of course we’ve also got FIVE kinds of “cherry tomatoes,” including: Washington Red Cherry, Yellow Pear, Yellow Minis, Sungold (a favorite for flavor), and Black Cherry.

And for those of you who just want a nice, ripe, tomato and don’t much care about tomato history, we’ve got some fine, regular, vine-ripened “slicers,” which are hybrid, but not like those ones in the supermarket, which are bred for their thick skins and ability to tolerate traveling long distances packed together in crates after being gassed to bring out the red color, flavor be damned.

The Great White heirloom tomato.

But what to do with all those tomatoes? Well, you could can them, as is being demonstrated at Greenbranch Farm today. Or do as I’ve done, and puree them in the blender or food processor, pour into freezer bags, squeeze out the air, lay flat in your freezer and then make sauce as needed, or can it later!

You could also do as my Aunt Joy, a native of Georgia and a genteel Southerner with a prize-winning tomato-growing husband, my Uncle Gene, does and make her famous Tomato Pie: (note: like many delicious Southern recipes, this calls for more mayonnaise than some of you might be comfortable with, but hey, tomato season is but once a year!)

The Green Zebra heirloom is ripe when it has yellow hues amongst the green.

Aunt Joy’s Tomato Pie

Ingredients:

About 3-4 medium, ripe tomatoes

fresh or dried basil — “a lot”

salt, pepper, 1 and 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, a tbsp hot sauce or deli-style mustard, 3/4 cup of mayonnaise.

Instructions:

The pretty orange Valencia heirloom tomato.

Preheat oven to 350. Peel tomatoes. (You do this easily by “scalding” them whole in rapidly boiling water, about 1 minute, then plunging them into cold water. Skin comes right off.) Slice into about 1/2 inch slices. Lay them out flat on paper towels to drain, about one hour. ( “Some people say you should take out the seeds, but I leave them in because they’re supposed to be good for male health,” says my Aunt Joy, who is always looking out for the best interests of my uncle.) In bowl, mix together all ingredients except basil and tomatoes. Get out your glass pie pan or square  casserole dish, and grease it.

When tomatoes have drained a bit, put down a single layer of tomatoes in the pie pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, top with a liberal sprinkling of fresh or dried basil, enough to really coat those tomatoes. Then repeat these layers (tomatoes, salt and pepper, basil) until you’re out of tomatoes, but leave about an inch at the top to put on your topping of mayo and cheese! Pop into the oven for about 40 minutes, and the top turns all bubbly and delicious, with those warm tomatoes releasing all their flavors. Make two. You’ll want leftovers.

These Striped Caverns are great for stuffing becayse if their thick walls and "hollowness." (see why they're called caverns?)

Now, many of you will come along in a few weeks asking about green tomatoes, I’m sure. Well, we might oblige and sell some nice green ones off the vine before the last frost threatens to do them in. Or we might not.  Bud, a regular at the Greenbranch market, says that his mom used to uproot the whole plant at the end of the season and hang it upside down to let them finish ripening somewhere away from the frosty mornings. Just a little tip for those of you seeking to prolong your growing season in your own garden.

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