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Greener Choices Home > Tomatoes: How to choose the best heirlooms 8/09

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What to buy now: Heirloom tomatoes
Adapted from ShopSmart

They come in funky globular shapes and colors that range from deep purple to bright orange or green with white creamy stripes. But don’t be thrown by the look of heirloom tomatoes. Their unusual flavors, which range from sweet and fruity to tart and lemony, can transform hot-weather classics like gazpacho, salsa, and even BLTs.


Heirlooms look and taste different because they are grown from seeds handed down through generations, from back in the days when tomatoes were meant to be eaten right off the vine in late summer, not year-round. You can sometimes find greenhouse specimens in stores even in wintertime, but heirlooms are best when grown locally and picked when perfectly ripe which is right now.

You can stuff them, bake them in a gratin, or grill them with cheese in a sandwich or quesadilla. Eat your fill, because like all tomatoes, they’re rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, and they will not be this good again until next summer.

The one bummer: Such deliciousness doesn’t come cheap. They’re pricier than the regular kind, sometimes costing twice as much. And they’re usually crated or sold loose as a motley mix.


To pick a ripe one, farmer and author Tim Stark, who grows heirlooms at Eckerton Hill Farm in Pennsylvania, says that because color varies so much, it’s best to go by feel. A ripe tomato feels weighty and full of juice. The skin should be taut and smooth, and the flesh should give a little, not be hard. And the skin should not be dull.

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