I'll admit it, I've bought heirloom tomatoes for $6.99/lb just cause you know, they're heirlooms, so they must be better than regular tomatoes. But then you get them home, and they're not. In fact they have a mushy, overripe texture and less flavor than those Mexican grape tomatoes sold in plastic clamshells all year long. But when you see that display the next time around with 5 different colors of oddly shaped tomatoes you buy into it again. And sometimes they really are some of the best tomatoes you've ever eaten.
Back in February, when Jon and I were reading seed packets at the store and dreaming about summer, we decided to grow 3 kinds of tomatoes. Jon chose Siberia - a small to medium cool weather variety, I chose Principe Borghese - an Italian plum to grape sized tomato 'ideal for sun drying', and then we decided on some Cherokee Purples - a 'sweet and smokey' heirloom, that 'matures moderately early compared to other heirloom varieties'. I treated them all the same at first, and 2 of the 3 were eager to grow strong and lush. I thinned and transplanted them to little 2" individual pots, then to 6" pots, then weaned them off of heat and artificial light to their summer home outside in 15" tubs. But the Cherokees were slow to grow. When the Principe Borghese's were 2' tall plants thick with leaves, the Cherokees were little spindly runts. But, mostly because Jon wouldn't let me give up on them, I treated them like they would one day be just as strong, just as lush, just as fruit laden as the other tomatoes. And after a while I started to believe it. They eventually started to grow and gave off a few branches and then a few flowers (even a couple mega-blooms), and eventually they had beautiful little green tomatoes on them, oddly shaped just like the heirlooms at the market. They slowly started to turn yellow, and then a pale peachy red, and then, it went downhill.
They still haven't reached the deep brownish red tone they're supposed to have when ripe. And most of the tomatoes are deeply splitting and thanks to the rainy weekend, growing mold and providing both shelter and nourishment for bugs. They're not appealing, even with months of work invested, I'm not interested in eating them. The Siberia and Principe Borghese's on the other hand have given a constant month long supply of perfect tomatoes which are surprisingly delicious - fresh and juicy, folded into omelets, roasted at a high temperature to split their skins, slowly cooked to maximise their sweetness, split and baked with bread crumbs and parmesan, in a tian with zucchini and eggplant, sauteed with spicy chickpeas . . . I've been eating lots of tomatoes.
But the really crazy part is, these are not the high end heirloom tomatoes you're supposed to love. These are just normal, pedestrian varieties that grow easily and produce buckets of fruit even when you forget to water them for a few days or the weather turns ridiculously hot (for the Northwest) or characteristically rainy and cold. I would say I'm done with heirlooms - they're over hyped and disappointing! But then truth is, I just bought some yesterday - Green Zebras, on sale for $3.99/lb - I just couldn't resist.