Friday, August 16, 2013

Heirloom Tomatoes vs. Hybrid Tomatoes

This is a great time of year when you can pick tomatoes right from your own garden.  You know they are safe to eat, higher in vitamins since you are picking them from the vine, hopefully free of all chemicals and are not those tasteless, thick skinned tomatoes you get from the store.  The store bought tomatoes were probably picked green weeks ago and ripened on their trip to the store hurting any vitamin content they may have had. 

I only grow heirlooms and have done so for years.  Once you get introduced to them, you will never go back. I drive all the way to Cedar Rapids to get my plants from Pecks.  They have a huge variety and I enjoy picking new varieties each year to sample.  I was able to pick up a few locally this year but still did my trip to CR.

Heirloom Pros

Stability - Heirlooms produce large numbers of seeds and bear tomatoes identical to the  parents.

Taste - Heirlooms are considered flavorful, and even superior to commercially produced varieties.

Disease resistance - Heirloom fans argue that their preferred varieties have a long record of producing healthy tomatoes. Hybrid fans disagree.  Since I have been growing them, I have not had any problem with disease.

Individuality - Many heirlooms have unique shapes and sport a variety of beautiful colors, including purple, yellow, white, orange, pink, red, green, black, and striped.

All of my heirlooms are so much meatier than a hybrid. 

Only minus for me is that heirloom take longer to mature.


Hybrid tomatoes come from the seeds produced by plants that were crossed with other varieties to achieve certain qualities. Hybrids are known to be bred mainly for production, disease resistance, and other qualities that don't include flavor. The tomatoes you see at the supermarket are a perfect example of complex hybrid fruit that have every desired quality except for the most important ones: flavor and texture.
Hybrid Pros

Productivity - Most agree: grow hybrids, you’ll harvest more tomatoes, but I like quality not quantity.

Disease-resistance - Hybrids have a reputation for not being as susceptible to diseases and pests as their heirloom counterparts.

Strength - Hybrids produce even in bad weather and questionable growing conditions.

Consistency - Hybrids are known for yielding tomatoes of similar size and with fewer blemishes.
Longevity - Harvested hybrid tomatoes have staying power. They endure the ride to Grandma’s house or the long hours on the roadside stand better than heirlooms.

Minuses – You are sacrificing flavor! Most gardeners agree that hybrids aren't as flavorful as heirlooms.  Also, they are unstable.  Call it a genetic breakdown if you must. Long term, hybrids just don’t produce seeds as strong as what birthed them – according to experts.

During this time of year I’ll eat just a tomato for lunch and be very happy with it.  A little salt and pepper and I’m ready to go. I make up a whole bowl and refrigerate the wedges and can eat them as snacks.  My mother likes to put a little sugar on hers and eat it like a dessert.

Some of my heirlooms are so large they are a meal in themselves.  Some are 5 to 6 inches across and so meaty that they are a piece of art.  Oh and the taste is heaven.  They are so large that one slice will be larger than an entire slice of bread making the best BLT’s you will ever have or larger than a hamburger bun for the perfect hamburger.  I grew the lettuce too so can have the unhealthy bacon.

Thought I’d share my heirloom marinara sauce I make.  It is super simple and quick.  You don’t need to simmer for hours or any way, I don't.

Heirloom Marinara Sauce

6 or 7 pounds of heirloom tomatoes with their juices (any color you like or mix colors)
3 tbs. olive oil
4 large finely chopped cloves garlic
1 tbs. Kosher salt
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
2 tbs. fresh oregano
1 large onion

This is a close as I can get to a recipe because I toss and taste until I’m happy.  They are never the same because of the tomatoes I toss in having different colors and flavor and how many tomatoes I just harvested.

Put on a big pot of boiling water.  Core your tomatoes and toss into the boiling water for 20 seconds and then put in a sink of cold water.  Pull the skins off and squeeze the seeds out.  Chop up the tomatoes and set aside.  

Put your onion and garlic in a food processor and finely chop.  Set aside.  Put your tomatoes into a food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped.  Repeat tomatoes until they are all chopped (you can also chop by hand if you like).  This speeds up the cooking time because you don't have to wait for the tomatoes to break down.

Heat the oil in a large (at least 4 quart) saucepan over medium low heat. Add the garlic and onion. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic and onion are golden and softened (approximately 5 minutes). Do not let it burn.  You’ll have to toss it out if the garlic burns. Pour in the tomatoes with their juices. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, and then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Add basil, oregano and salt and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is full flavored and has reduced to the thickness your desire, 20 to 40 min.   I do not like my sauce real thick so cook it about 20 minutes.  You may wish your sauce thicker. Taste and add the pinch of sugar if you think it is necessary.  The fresh heirloom tomatoes should not need it though.  Taste test for salt and herbs and add more if necessary. 

If you plan on canning this sauce, you may.  I add a little lemon to the tomatoes though because heirlooms don’t have as much acid in them.  I grow both oregano and basil so am especially proud when I serve this.   If you keep spaghetti in your pantry, you will always be able to toss together a great meal of spaghetti and marinara sauce.  Just grate a little Parmesan cheese on top and you are good to go. 

Hope you are enjoying tomato season.  I sure am.

Be happy and may God bless you and yours.  

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