I made my first visit to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this past Saturday, and found the market saturated with peaches and heirloom tomatoes. I was most fascinated by the number of different varieties of heirloom tomatoes available -- way beyond anything I recall seeing at New York's Union Square Greenmarket. Which so many to choose some, it was quite overwhelming. Thankfully, many vendors offered tasting samples of their tomatoes.
What exactly are heirloom tomatoes? According to expert Darrell "Tomato Man" Merrell, ". . . [A]n heirloom is a plant that's been handed down from one family member to another for several generations. Darrell considers a plant 50 years old or more an heirloom tomato. A lot of open-pollinated tomatoes have come along since then that will someday be heirlooms. An heirloom is generally a plant that's survived the test of time and produced an abundance of tomatoes with great flavor."
Heirloom tomatoes are more flavorful, colorful and often oddly shaped than typical store bought tomatoes. The intensity of the color of the tomato general indicates its acidity; darker colors are more acidic and lighter colors are less acidic. The more red a tomato has, the sweeter it is and the greener a tomato, the more tart it is. Yellow and orange varieties have a mild and sweet flavor while purple and black varieties have a bold, rich, acidic flavor.
The LaTimes story, Heirlooms Arrive, includes a list of some of the more common varieties with brief descriptions. The story reports that at Whole Foods markets, heirloom tomatoes are summer's No. 1-selling produce item in terms of dollars spent. The San Francisco Chronicle suggests three heirlooms worth considering , 'Mrs. Houseworth', 'Mortgage Lifter, Radiator Charlie's', and 'Earl of Edgecombe'.