Look at those tomatoes! Cracked, mis-shapen, full of unusual oranges, purples, and yellows.... what's with the ugly tomatoes??!!
They're heirloom tomatoes, of course! So what's the deal with heirlooms? They certainly do not conform to the current idea of a "perfect" tomato: round, red, and crack-free. But there was a time when tomatoes were not that "perfect", and along the way, a lot has been sacrificed in terms of flavor and nutrition in order to get them that way. But recently, many people have been re-discovering heirlooms.
The first time I ever grew heirloom tomatoes, I thought I'd done something wrong. They were deformed and lumpy, cracking, and never turned fully red. We literally threw many of the first tomatoes we picked into the compost, waiting for one that came out "right". Little did we know we were throwing away some of nature's gems!
Much of the store-bought produce you see these days in supermarkets has been genetically modified. (Click here to read our post on some of the major problems with genetic engineering.) They have been bred, cross-bred, and modified for one of a few particular purposes: to harvest earlier, to transport better, and/or to have more disease resistance. Flavor and nutrition are after-thoughts. If a tomato can't handle being transported 1500 miles while still arriving in good condition, it is virtually useless in today's world of agribusiness. The reason you don't see heirlooms in the stores more is simple: they are delicate, bruise easily, and could never withstand the journeys that our average veggies make these days.
Some heirlooms go back a few decades, some centuries, and some, like Black Aztec Corn, go back thousands of years. Growing heirlooms is like taking a stroll back in time, connecting us with the early farmers of history. There is deep connection between us and the earth that manifests itself in a plant that has been grown (and remained unchanged) for that long...
For all their ugliness, heirlooms far outweigh conventional varieties for their flavor alone. One bite of one of our Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, with their deep and delicious tomato flavor, or Yellow Currant Tomatoes, sweeter than candy, and you will understand The Way of the Heirloom. Once you have discovered heirlooms, you may just never go back.
Looking to learn more about why heirlooms are the healthy choice for our planet? Check out Seed Saver Exchange, where you can learn about the importance of preserving genetic diversity, and also order some heirloom seeds of your own! And if you are in the Southwest Michigan Area, check us out at the Allegan Farmer's Market on Thursdays, from 8:30 am -1:30 pm, at the corner of Cutler and Water Streets.