Late Bloomers

Heirloom tomatoes are some of the tastiest ways to stretch summer.

While other regions of the country are saying goodbye to the intensely-flavored and colorful heirloom tomatoes, here in SoCal, our warm weather creates a farm-fresh bounty well into fall. In fact, some of tastiest fruits of the season come at summer’s end. As you savor them, enjoy these tidbits about this top-of-the-line variety.

  • The term “heirloom” (in relation to plants) was apparently first used by Kent Whealy of Seed Savers Exchange. He referenced “heirloom” in a speech he gave in Tucson in 1981. .
  • Brandywine is a classic strain that many experts rank as the best all-around tasting tomato. It features large red fruits—up to 2 pounds each. Brandywine is an indeterminate variety, meaning it continues to grow after it begins producing fruit.
  • Color normally determines acidity. Darker shades are more acidic; lighter ones are less acidic. Green indicates tartness.
  • Why are heirlooms more flavorful? Any plant that sets only two or three fruits, as heirlooms sometimes do, is bound to produce juicier, sweeter and more flavorful fruit than varieties that generate 100.
  • “Family” heirlooms are grown from seeds that have been passed down for several generations. Other newer varieties are the result of crossbreeding experiments.
  • Heirlooms are full of antioxidants, vitamins and cancer-preventing agents.
  • A retired chemist from North Carolina created one of the most popular varieties sold, the Cherokee Purple. It has a delicious smoky flavor.
  • Heirlooms have a harder time fighting off disease and can easily bruise or split while shipping. Since they tend to stay local, farmers usually let the fruit ripen on the vine longer. That’s one reason farmers market heirlooms are often tastier than store-bought varieties, which are often picked before ripe.
  • Yellow and orange varieties usually have a milder and sweeter flavor while purple and black varieties have a bold, rich, acidic flavor.