Heirloom tomatoes are highly revered among gardeners and fruit lovers for their perfected and pure flavors and texture. These tomatoes are open-pollinated cultivars that are often adapted to specific climates or environments, and their seeds have been passed down for generations. They come in dozens of varieties and even more shapes and colors, from indigo to white. There are a handful of popular heirlooms known for size, flavor and texture that are favorites in the food world.
Purple Cherokee Heirlooms
The name of this heirloom explains it all; not only were they first originated by the Cherokee Indians (as well as the first black heirloom variety to become popular), but they are a beautiful purple hue with splashes of green. A variety of beefsteak, the tomato is usually a dark indigo color with a green stripe painted across the top of it. More than 100 years in existence, this heirloom has a slightly smokey, rich, sweet flavor. These tomatoes are best when grilled, cooked down in sauces to add complex flavors, or added chilled and raw to salads and sandwiches. The Purple Cherokee is also one of the most ideal heirlooms for dehydrating because of its density.
This variety from the 1800's is the one that started all the hype about heirloom tomatoes, because it is practically suitable to use in any type of cooking, whether it is for slicing, eating raw, cooking or using in sauces. Brandywine ranges in color from red to pink to purple with large leaves. These leaves are there to shield it from elements while the tomato grows to over 1 pound. With a rich and sweet flavor, the Brandywine tomato is very meaty, so slicing is easy. Add to caprese salads, grill on skewers, broil, toss into sauces, saute in oil as a side dish, or mash to make your own sauces.
Black Zebra Heirlooms
The Black Zebra heirloom is similar to the well-known Green Zebra with it's tartness and delicate flesh when ripe. This variety is a cross between Green Zebra and a black tomato. They are not as large as some other heirloom varieties, but Black Zebras have concentrated flavor within the purple and green striped skin. The flavor has rich complexity with a smokey sweetness. This tomato is best enjoyed raw and fresh.