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If you know anything about gardening, read anything about gardening, or ever happen to overhear anything about gardening, you’ve no doubt heard the term “heirloom” and specifically, in reference to tomatoes. I myself was not sure what the term actually meant until several years ago when I finally decided to start getting more educated on fruit and vegetable gardening. So just what are they and why are they popular?

Just what is an heirloom tomato?

While its exact definition can vary slightly depending on who you talk to, the term “heirloom” basically refers to the long length of time that particular variety of tomato (or other produce) has existed. These varieties have been passed down through several generations of a family, mostly because of their valued characteristics. This being the case, these varieties are not hybridized or over-bred like many of the others since they already have attributes that are desirable and therefore, not to be messed with.

Why are heirloom tomatoes so popular?

As I mentioned above, the lack of hybridization (which is a breeding process to encourage commercially attractive characteristics) and over-breeding (a by-product of this hybridization) results in the great qualities of a given variety of tomato to remain just that – great! Therefore, the heirloom tomato plants typically produce fruits which are meatier, more true to their color, and even more nutritious! In this “health conscious” age we live, we hear more and more about what is referred to as “hidden hunger”, caused by modern diets that are low in essential vitamins and minerals. Not so with these tomatoes! The Live Strong website lists the typical nutrition facts of a medium-sized heirloom tomato, pointing out that each one contains approximately 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A and 40 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C. At only 35 calories each, you could definitely afford to munch on one no matter what diet you were trying to follow! Or, if you prefer to jazz it up a bit, perhaps you’ll want to make some amazing Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta like blogger Katherine Martinelli shares here! Lastly, the over flavor of an heirloom tomato just can’t be beat. Forget adding sugar or salt to these babies — there’s no need!

A few varieties not to be missed!

Brandywine Heirloom Tomato

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This Amish variety dates back to the 1880’s when it was named after the Brandywine Creek in Chester County, Pennsylvania. By far the best known of all heirlooms, the Brandywine boasts of superb flavor and a large beefsteak-like shape. The reddish-pink skin surrounds a light, creamy flesh and ripen late in the summer.

 

Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomato

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Dating back at least 100 years, this heirloom variety is originally from Tennessee and is reported to have been first grown by the Cherokee Native Americans. The large fruits are dark pink with darker purple “shoulders” and is sometimes even called black in color due to its deep coloring. The complex flavor of this tomato has a slightly sweet aftertaste and makes excellent tomato sandwiches.

 

Old German Heirloom Tomato

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A large tomato with yellow and red marbled flesh, this variety originated in the Mennonite area of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in the 1800’s. One of the best slicing tomatoes on the market, these two-pound fruits taste as good as they look!

 

Green Zebra Heirloom Tomato

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The exquisite lime-emerald flesh is just the beginning to the long list of amazing attributes this tomato has. This heirloom variety actually combines four others to come up with a truly unique and invigorating lemon-lime flavor, somewhat tangy and slightly tarter than regular tomatoes. This exciting taste and different coloring make it the perfect additions for spicing up salads and salsa.

 

So that, in a nutshell, is what I know about heirloom tomatoes. One other thing I know: I’m definitely growing some this year. The difficult question is: which one? Which one have you grown in the past or will you grow this summer?

With hands in the dirt and head in the clouds,

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