Heirlooms: A Journey in Taste
by KT Tomey
According to Royer Held, the ideal tomato texture should be creamy to slightly succulent. A creamy tomato, in his opinion, is one that you don’t have to bite into. You can just press it against the top of your mouth and it squishes. Succulent, on the other hand, is more firm than creamy, with more substance. The worst possible texture scenario is crunchy, a dire situation Held refers to as “a grocery store tomato in winter.” Software developer by day, Held has become something of an heirloom plant authority in
Take two tomato varieties: Olga’s Yellow Round Chicken, a Russian heirloom variety, vs. the Celebrity Supreme hybrid tomato. Whereas a bucket of the “Chickens” will each have a slightly unique shape, size, texture and color, the “Celebrities” are bred to look like a
One thing the “grocery store in winter” hybrids are not known for: taste. Mark Wilson of Wilson’s Farm has been specializing in heirlooms since 2001, and his preference for these varieties can be summed up in two words: “better flavor.” Wilson, who got into farming about ten years ago
Erica Kempter, co-owner of Nature and Nurture LLC and organic gardening teacher, worries that the disappearance of heritage foods will create a loss of genetic and cultural diversity. According to Kempter, who is particularly fond of a purple carrot named the “Dragon,” “we’re losing genetic diversity because farmers are not growing open pollinated varieties.” This concern, shared by farmers, gardeners, environmentalists, foodies, and chefs across the country and, in fact world, was the inspiration for The Ark of Taste. Launched by Slow Food just over ten years ago, it aims to preserve and celebrate traditional foods at risk of being forever forgotten—and never tasted. The
Preserving these varieties, according to Kempter, is also important in keeping seeds and crops in the hands of the people, not corporations (we are facing a conglomeration of seed companies since Monsanto has been buying up seed companies of late).
Thinking you might give heirlooms a try this season? A good place to start is the Seed Savers Exchange catalog, “in person” seed savers exchanges, or by contacting Project Grow for information about seed and seedling sales. Look for seeds that originate from the