Santa Monica Farmers Markets: A Look At Heirloom Tomatoes

Wednesday, 27 Jun 2012, 2:18:00 AM

Special To The Mirror

There are more than 600 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Many are available at the Santa Monica Farmers Markets.
Courtesy Photo
There are more than 600 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Many are available at the Santa Monica Farmers Markets.

Dear Ms. Haricot,

We were at the Santa Monica Farmers market last Saturday and we were amazed at all the different heirloom tomatoes varieties. What are some and are there differences in flavor?

Joan and Paul Sanderson, Mar Vista

Dear Joan and Paul:

Believe it or not, there are more than 600 varieties of heirloom tomatoes! What exactly is heirloom tomato? It’s an open-pollinated (non-hybrid) cultivar of tomato. A cultivar by definition “is a plant or group of plants selected for their desirable characteristics that can be maintained by propagation.” Some think a true heirloom tomato is one that’s been nurtured and handed down from a family for generations while others place a date of at least 100 years for a tomato cultivar to be called heirloom.

Heirloom tomatoes vary in size; cherry, small, medium, and large. In addition to their distinctive coloring and markings, heirloom tomatoes definitely have their own unique flavor and texture. You’ve heard of blind tastings with wine – why not invite your friends to a “blind” tomato tasting to put your taste buds to the test!

Here are some of the heirloom tomato varieties that are available at the Farmers Markets right now:

Cherokee Purple: One of the first of the “black” group of tomatoes, beefsteak in style, deep purple red color, very juicy, tastes super sweet.

Black Krim: Originated in the Isle of Krim in the Black Sea, near the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine. Medium to large size, reddish brown hue towards the bottom of the fruit, then darkening to greenish-dark purple shoulders. Bold, salty, slightly smoky taste.

Pineapple: Originally from Paraguay and the South of Brazil. Large beefsteak style tomato that ripens to a beautiful bright yellow, often with red stripes. Sweet, mild flavor, and meaty flesh with relatively few seeds. Can weigh up to two lbs!

Brandywine: Some say the Brandywine has Amish origins; it dates back to the 1800s. But it was a farmer named Ben Quinsenberry who introduced it to the masses in 1982. Pink, beefsteak type fruit and flesh with super tasty tomato flavor that melds sweetness and acidity.

Lemon-Boy: A relatively new tomato hybrid that is thought to have originated here in the states. A yellow tomato that boasts a lemony and sweet flavor and has very low acidity with a thicker skin and a thicker wall of flesh.

San Marzano: The myth: The first San Marzano tomato seeds were supposedly a gift from the King of Peru to the King of Naples sometime during the 1770s and then planted near the city of San Marzano in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. This is THE tomato to use in cooking and for sauces with its often bitter sweet taste, few seeds and flesh that is high in pectin. Vibrant red in color and long and oblong in shape.

Green Zebra: Wonderful tangy flavor with dark green and yellow stripes. This is actually not a heirloom variety although it’s been mistakenly identified as such.

Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes: These come in numerous varieties and, like their larger counterparts, come in a rainbow of colors with distinctive flavor characteristics.

Market Highlights: Weiser Farms’ “Lakers Bakers” potatoes; Stone fruit bliss continues with apricots now turning up. Sweet corn, spring onions, fava beans, berries, eggplant, Chinese long beans and Pattypan squash.

The Downtown Farmers Market is held Wednesdays on Arizona Ave (between 4th and Ocean) from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Saturdays on Arizona Ave. (between 4th and 2nd streets) from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Pico Farmers Market is held Saturdays at Virginia Park at Pico and Cloverfield from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Main Street Farmers Market is held Sundays at 2640 Main Street (in Heritage Square) from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All of these markets are widely considered to be among the best on the west coast and feature field-fresh produce, hundreds of kinds of vegetables, brilliant cut flowers, breads, cheeses, delicious foods, live music, and more. 310.458.8712, smgov.net/portals/farmersmarket.

Questions? Email askmsharicot@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2011 by Santa Monica Mirror. All rights reserved.